127. Aquaponics – Green Walls | My Food | Kevin Morgan-Rothschild | Paris, France


Saion Du Agriculture Paris, FranceSo, I am super excited to introduce my guest today who I met in Paris at the Agriculture Expo. When I walked up to the expo there was this amazing greenhouse full of the coolest aquaponics set up and that’s where I met Kevin Morgan-Rothschild from My Food!

Tell us a little about yourself.

As you said my name’s Kevin, I’m an American living right outside of Paris, and I’m here to do my masters degree and as part of my end of studies internship, I’m helping launch a start-up that is creating greenhouse systems for individuals that use vertical aquaponics systems and permaculture beds. The idea is that it’s a turnkey solution for people who want to grow all of their own fresh food pretty easily. Our computer system that we’re in the process of developing.

I totally want one! I’ll let you explain.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

It’s a funny question, I was definitely was not born with a green thumb. I was always interested in gardening. I grew up in the woods in Massachusetss.  My parents always said, we live in the woods, there’s no sun, we can’t grow anything. My mom took me to a nursery. Broccoli, I remember I said I want to grow broccoli so I bought a broccoli plant, put it in the soil, it died and I got a little discouraged

Got more interested …

I would say that the first way it got brought on,

I was majoring in Urban studies and urban planning. I was taking mostly sociology classes. I did a semester in Latin America, they had a rural sociology class in Buenus Aries, I had already taken urban sociaology. So why don’t I take rural sociology.

When I got back to New Orleans, i got involved with an org that was helping Latin Americans, called the the Latino farmers coop, helping Latinos. There I got interested in the concept of Aquaponics, and my senior year, back in 2011.

I love all that, how crazy you went to all these other countries. Buenes Aries and then now you’re in Paris! I think our gonna inspire all sorts of people.

What does organic gardening/earth friendly mean to you?

So for me, I’ve been recently getting into the concept of permaculture, almost the same thing as organic gardening, maybe know a little more then me,

I really got interested in permaculture, the idea that we can be growing food without pesticides, and instead of creating a monoculture when we grow having a large diversity of crops in our system. The idea of improving our soil, obviously we don’t do that with aquaponics, but the idea that we could be gardening without polluting the earth. Avoiding potentially carcinogenic, or polluting soils  sounds like a great option. Gardening that doesn’t hurt our earth.

Aweseome! Antoher milenial rocking our plaent! I don’t know a lot about permaculture too!

Who or what inspired you to start using organic techniques?

That was more recently, to tell you the truth,I’ve always been interested in ways to be more friendly to the environment. Not just me, something our generation is moving towards,  it’s a good business to be in. It’s a buisenss you can feel good about, if you come home at the end of the day, or if you work from home, you feel good doing something that is promoting good behavior in society. I wouldn’t say there is one inspiration but I hope more people are inspired to take up earth friendly organic practices.

Do you want to tell us about the aquaponics system?

We’ve  got aquaponoics systems. We’ve created a system that monitors the water qualities. We have an option with ORP. Basically all the different water quality the physical properties, the variables will fluctuate, if there is an abnormal fluctional, outside of an acceptable range, something going on with your system

will alert you there is a problem via smart phone or tablet or computer, so if there is a problem

you avoid dead fish,  or inconsistencies that happen. and You;ll avoid a lot of mistakes new aquaponics gardeners make. Even the feeding system will be automated.

When I was there the thing that was the most innovative was the way the food was growing vertically in these columns. Do you want to explains what those are?

aquaponics computer system

We are using, for our vertical aquaponics, the ZipGrow Towers which are manugartured by wyoming based company AgroTech. Nate Storey, he’s the doctor of urban agriculture. I sometimes refer to him as the Steve Jobs of urban ag, although he might not like that.

He’s really building up a huge community of people who are able to start vertical green walls and Vertical Zipgrow farms. They have a lot of content on the web, which makes it great for learning about aquaponics.

The systems we are using monitoring systems, the probes are called Atlas probes. A lot of people are using them and connecting them to different computer systems to monitor their different, scientists in communications systems as well.

So the probe tells the computer wheat’s going on?

What the probes tell us is they allow us to have a constant knowledge of the ph and oxygen levels, without having to constantly be testing it, saves time and helps automate the system, without probes of this quality it would be hard to manage the system efficiently.

aquaponics vertical growing system green wall

I want to describe to listeners what it looked like. To me it almost looked like rain gutters. Then the plants are growing up out of this straight vertical thing…

It’s hard for people to imagine if they’ve never seen it before. What’s great about the the vertical grow towers, they allow you grow vertically and they allow you to create green walls, but for in terms of aquaponics usage threes a lot of biological surface area, which is great for converting the waste from your fish, to natural organic fertilizer for your plant.

That’s what’s great about them.

In terms of visually, imagine a column, you have a 5 foot high columnand the plants are growing out from the front side, when they’re growing really well, youwon’t even see the tower per say. You’ll have so much lettuce, or kale or green food growing up the sides as well.

The other thing that’s great about them you were growing them for schools?

We were working with a couple of different types of vertical growing techniques in New Orleans. We were installing systems at schools, we installed 60 tower gardens on top of a grocery store in New Orleans. Basically, all of the herbs that were harvested on top of the store were being sold in the store below. They were going a lot of basil in the summertime and parsley in the winter.

And also working with a chef and he could harvest all the hot peppers and basil that he wanted. What it did was eliminated the constant need to order a small quantity of herbs

You just harvest what you need, and the plant will keep growing and you will havest what you need, instead of harvesting  …  ordering a bunch of herbs and having a bunch go to waste, and thinking of all the trucks that had to get them there.

I think that this is the way of grocery stores, obviously they’re not gonna grow all the vegetables and fruit and produce you see in the store, and probably they will start with culinary herbs just like lobsters are live in the store… If you tell me I am gonna have something to pick at eye level in stead of having to bend down. It was like of the vegetables that I eat the most just standing there looking at me. Just everything I eat the most.

aquaponics fish system from My Food

The first thing I noticed was this is what I grow in my garden the most, or what I want to be growing! What about the fish? People can eat the fish to? Right?

So, depending on what climate you’re in, you could be growing tilapia, or trout, or perch, or carp if you live in a climate where you have a lot of variation in your temperature and you don’t want to control, if you don’t want to be constantly heating and cooling your water.  Carp, the common carp fish can handle a basic temp vitality. Carp and perch, but they tend to grow a little slower.

If you live in a hot area, Tilapia…. if you live in a cold area ..  trout.

In terms of your temp regulation in your water tank, is really important for aquaponics.M any of your listeners if they are aquaponics growers will tell you. If you have the opportunity to dig your tank into the ground it will be insulated.

I was thinking these would go good in your basement.

The only problem I wouldn’t want to be growing, in a basement in terms of my lettuce. Im sure lots of people out there grow hydroponics in your basement. But I prefer to take advantage of the natural sunlight.

If  you’re a plumber. … fish are in the basement and the plants are outside …requires a little extra plumbing … having greenhouse to prevent wind events or storms. In terms of greenhouses, there’s a Belgium based company called ACD . They make really strong greenhouses with glass that you can throw a rock at ti and weill still be there.

aquaponics growing system from My Food

Do you want to tell us what’s growing best?

In terms of your vertical systems I really suggest your:

  • leafy greens
  • parsley
  • basil will grow like crazy…
  • kale
  • good to have large biodiversity
  • introduce some beneficial flowers that attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and lacewings

If you really want to prevent having to using pesticides and spraying your plants I recommend planting… a mixes of beneficials flowers … Johnny’s has a great mix. In French they call it “buffet pour les insects”. That’s important to me and hopefully other people as well.

Yes, I want to plant more chives because the bees really like the chives.

Permaculture Bed Aquaponics system My food

I keep thinking vertical because that’s what you had there that day, but are their horizontal beds too?

There are definitely different kinds. WE don’t have a horizontal aquaponics system. What we do is we create a permaculture bed is what we call it. It’s a mix between

  • chip wood
  • biochar
  •  actually logs from the forest.

What that will do is it that will breakdown over time and will continue to provide you with nutrients for your plants you don’t have to add fertilizer. Then you keep adding compost on top of your bed every year.

I’m just learning about what they call, a green fertilizer, it a concept of planting a crop that doesn’t necessarily grow anything. 

Like a cover crop.

It’s planting something that is not gonna give you a direct yield of anything tangible, but it will help improve your soil and your microboial communities. 

Lentil-UndergroundWell, my husband’s for one been bugging me to get cover crops and then I went to this AERO workshop and met the amazing Liz Carlisle who wrote the book the Lentil Underground about these amazing Montana Farmers like Dave Oin from Timeless Seeds who put the lentils into their soils. And the big question form her book is why are farmers not doing this if we know this is best practices, and responses range from fear of banks not giving loans and having land not producing etc. She also talks about Bob Quinn from Kamut Organics. We just planted some clover and I also bought some buckwheat from Lisa Ziegler, but I’m also just learning. 

Definitely something we should all start to get into, the payback will help improve your environment… and improve your soil quality. Seems like a good investment.

My listeners also know we just got 4 sheep. And my friends and family were like why did you get sheep and mostly their here to poop. For the manure. As we expand, where are we gonna get the healthy soil? So having a cover crop to grow will help. And especially here in Montana the land is dry, especially where Liz Carlisle interviewed farmers on the east side because it’s dryer there as compared to where Mike and I are here on the west side.

One last thing that I wanted to add  is that here in Europe we’re launching our

Pioneering Citizens community in Europe. We’re searching for 30 testers in Europe, who will be able to test our solutions and help collect data with the Atlas Probes and provide feedback about what we can improve for when we commercialize and go big public. Hopefully it will be available within the next year. If anyone knows someone who is in Europe who is an avid gardener.

Well tell them more about how they apply for that because I do have 280+ listeners in France in and around Paris and all over Europe. 

They can go to myfood.eu become a pioneer citizen button and fill out the form.

People are gonna like that idea. So let’s see what other questions can I ask. You’ve had other gardens so what’s your least favorite activity.

One thing about, I worked with hydroponics systems a lot. And one thing with hydroponics you’re using synthetic fertilizers. Because of that you’re not trying to build up your microbial community. So you’re trying to keep everything super clean all the time. So I was cleaning my hydroponic systems. The act of cleaning plastic is as far away from organics.

So cleaning plastic over and over was my least favorite activity.

But with aquaponics you’re not really necessary to be cleaning the plastic, you want that biofilm growing.

I definitely something Im happy about and I hope if there’s anybody growing medical marijuana out there, I hope they consider doing it this way. Cause one of the things with this medical marijuana thing, one they are using all this power growing indoors and all this electric use that I think should be growing outside like a regular crop! And then also, they’re growing it hydroponically so, there’s all these chemicals being added and people are eating it, there’s all these edibles now and nobody’s regulating it or watching it and I just worry what people are putting in their bodies. So I hope this might be a solution.

It definitely seems to be, if you look at what is available, if you into hydroponics for either marijuana or fruits and vegetables there’s a lot of products out there that are really expensive!

am I gonna buy all that stuff for my vegetable garden? There are other ways.

when they are growing aqupaonicially the profit margins are a bit higher.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

I like to check on my seedlings and see how they sprouted, and it’s fun to see the process from seed to the moment when you can be sitting down and enjoying a nice meal and knowing that you grew this! Perhaps one day it would be great to collect some seeds from plants that I have grown then you really have a closed loop system, because you are not buying seeds from anyone, that would be the full return.

That’s one of the other big things I’ve learned from my podcast this year, is I had no idea it made a big difference, so we’re saving our seeds a lot more. Because one seed that are acclimated to your area or that come from a local person, I had no idea what a difference it was gonna make!

What is the best gardening advice you have  ever received?

The best gardening advice I ever received was that if you are growing in a soil, is to depending on your type of medium is make sure that you have just the right amount of water.  You want to make sure that your water, that soil is able to dry out easily and able to get wet easily … to not have a lot of root rot and not have your plants dying


That’s more true then you know, Chris Blanchard was my guest in episode 113, he talks more about the business, he did hands on for a long time, but now he helps people with their businesses. He says that the amount of water you put on your crops can make a huge difference.  “Water is the cheapest fertilizer you can get. Growers who have very carefully managed their water, have triple your yields though irrigation management…

Last summer for instance I was able to do a little research study working outside of Paris, I did this one system where I had coco and perlite mixed in a pot and then I did another system where I had coco, perlite, and balls in the bottom. When I put the biotin balls in the bottom of the part, I had a higher growth rate! It created an extra ability for the plants to grow.

I like that, that’s gonna inspire listeners to do some experiements. 

Is there a favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be?

When I was working in New Orleans, I was always carrying my ph meter around helpful for testing. I’m excited with the new aquaponics systems were developing now, are ph neutral and then with the systems we are developing I can check on my smart phone. The monitoring screen.

A favorite internet resource?

Make a broad statement and say google, you can search any gardening questions. They have the answer for you … You tube

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

Not off the top of my head, I’ve been – some interesting speeches on youtube to learn the concepts of permaculture. Definitely a lot of books out there now. I have a french permaculture book now.

MarketGardenerBookThe Market Gardener: A Successful Grower’s Handbook for Small-Scale Organic Farming

I brought a French gardening magazine and Mike found some interesting things in there even! One of the most recommended book has been Jean Martin Fortier’s the Market Gardener and even though he is in Canada I think a lot of his principles probably come from France.

They have a strong attachment to the terrarres .… as they call it it’s taken a longer time …. agriculutre au soil …. every place where your food grows, changes the flavor and certain soil conditions and sunlight can affect the conditions that can be grown…. things like parsley … doesn’t have to have a certain….

My Food Greenhouse Aquaponics system

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

Definitely, they have a strong attachment to what they call the Terrares,

taking a little bit longer to adapt to soil as agriculture or agriculture du soil, because they believe that every place that it grows it changes the soil, because the change of sunlight, that every region would effect the favor, something grown in a  a controlled environment … But it when it comes to me and my company when it comes to lettuce and parsley, for me.It doesn’t have to have the flavor of a different region … Maybe people will have different comments?

I usually ask people about business advice, but you’ve had this amazing life. Like look at me 48, before I braved up to go somewhere were people speak a different language and besides your working there and doing this amazing thing….

It’s defeinitely  different depending on the country your in … I was asked to give a Ted Talk … asked about how to become an entrepreneur, don’t do the 9-5, work in a restaurant on the weekends, you know and start your business on the days off, maybe more so in the US,

Half of me says go to school so you have the knowledge, another half of me says you can learn it as you go along, so I’m somewhere in between on what my advice is. If you have the drive to have a couple of sources of income, if you don’t have the prior education in the field, then go for it. If you’re short on resources, then maybe first go to school for it, and if you’re willing to take that risk, definitely going to school for horticulture, doesn’t hurt Or whatever you want to do.

As far as business skills, it doesn’t have a degree in business but plenty of people have gone far so it all depends…

Yep, I think that’s great, there’s lots of opportunities out there and different possibilities…Ag Expo Paris, France

Final question- 

If there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

Obviously, part of my mission is then, one issue I’m tackling really is how can we shorten the supply train for food, so people eating more local food. People driving less in general will be great.

In Paris, in the US I understand, we often have inefficient ways, but in Paris I don’t understand why there are so many cars everywhere when the metro is so available. Maybe it’s a status thing, take the metro if its there … people who don’t have the luxury of having a great public system … more government … develop more public transport!

Awesome I love it, that’s one of my husband’s big things.

For instance … I’m living in Paris … I’m starting a permaculture garden and I want a source of hay. I can’t just go out to the field and pick it up, I don’t have a car and there’s no fields inside of Paris. There are times when having a source of transit would be amazing, but having a car, and using it to do something that is going to use help others … that’s the focus of my life.

Thre’s a great organization down in Missoula MT, called MUD, and they have a tool library and one of the tools in the library is a pickup so people can go get a pickup load of compost or manure. For like $20. I love the bike stands all over Paris, and driving scooters all over etc. I thought there were a lot of bikes myself. Do you want to say anything about what it’s like to go to another country? Tips or hints?

If I had to give a tip or hint, part of the reason I came over there, is because I have a french girlfriend, so if you have a friend in another country and and you’ve always wanted an ex[ereioecne I would say go move to that other country. And try life out if i’s not for you. It’s definitely something it’s a new experience that can really change your life.

It’s not easy, there’s a lot of adjustment learning how the local government works …. the language … it’s not something that’s easy

Do you speak fluent French?

I’ve been there for a year and half … I didn’t when I got here. My girlfriend is here, so I relied on her a lot, I was living in the city University a campus for internatnioal students. There were not many americans that I met, everybody in my generation spoke English from most countries. That kind of spoiled me for the first year… had to start improving …

I noticed as you said, as soon as I went inside that AG thing, I couldn’t find anyone that spoke french and then the one day I went outside of Paris, nobody at the Farmer’s Market would really talk to me. 

The other day I called up a potential supplier … I asked if I could open an account there, they were like no were’ not interested and hung up. So I need to work on my french a little bit.

My big two were if I asked someone how much something cost? I wouldn’t understand what they said and also if I asked directions I didn’t know what people were saying?

Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own aquaponics garden?

Um,,, just get started …  in terms of gardening you learn from experience, so like anything in life, just start planting seeds, make some mistakes, watch some tutorials online and listen to some organic gardening podcasts!

Thank you Kevin!!

How do we connect with you?

You can connect with me at kevin@myfood.eu. and the website is myfood.eu

Thanks for being a great guest another millenial rocking the world!!!

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About the author, Jackie Marie

I'm an artist and educator. I live at the "Organic Oasis" with my husband Mike where we practice earth friendly techniques in our garden nestled in the mountains of Montana.

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