Learn … to Smile

One of my focuses of this blog is to share things that I learn.  That is consistent with one of my personal core values: continuous learning.  I have written in a previous post that learning can happen in small places, like a conversation.  The key is to be observant of what you’ve learned and apply it to gain from it.

This week I observed how attending a simple education session can bring value to my life.

A few weeks back, I saw an advertisement for a community presentation on Aquaponics by Matthias and Jutta Zapletal, the owners and operators of family run Northern Bioponics Ltd.  I’ve eaten lettuce and other produce this operation and I was always impressed with the quality and taste.  I also was interested in the science behind an Aquaponic operation.  These two factors gave me incentive to attend.

 Matthias and Jutta Zapletal produces lettuce, mustard green, herbs and tilapia fish in his year-round aquaponic greenhouse in Prince George, B.C.

Matthias and Jutta Zapletal produces lettuce, mustard green, herbs and tilapia fish in his year-round aquaponic greenhouse in Prince George, B.C.

And glad I did because I learned some wonderful things from their talk;  both about Aquaponics, a biological system to grow fish and vegetables year-round, and the business mechanics and people that make up Northern Bioponics Ltd. Some of my learning highlights were:

  • Their operation at its current scale, even-though it is green house based, is heavily dependent on sunlight cycle. This means it produces the least food in winter months when I am most wanting to buy their fresh produce.
  • Northern Bioponics has cultivated supply agreements with 5 local restaurants and two grocers which adds a stable income stream to their business.
  • Their farm has a very tight profit margin because their infrastructure and capital costs are significant, sales are slow growing thought the farmers’ market model, and selling to restaurants is extremely competitive.  Restaurants are always looking for the cheapest price on food since they operate in an equally competitive industry.
  • Government regulations, most designed to ensure food safety, are challenging for small agriculture operations.  These regulations hinder a small business’s ability to make small incremental changes to increase profits.
  • Chefs from local restaurants have given feedback to Northern Bioponics that the taste of their lettuce and greens from the Aquaponic Greenhouse is noticeably better than from their other suppliers (likely grown and transported from far away).
  • The Tilipia fish that is integral to their system, since it can be raised in a cold water environment, is not a big seller because fish is not a major feature of the North American diet.
  • Matthias and Jutta have not vacationed since they started production in 2011 because they Aquaponic system is continual and can not be shut down without tremendous costs at any part of the year.  If something went wrong with their system, they have about 30 minutes to return to their farm, diagnose the issue, and fix the problem or else their livelihood would be ruined.

So how does this fit with the title of this article, that learning can make us smile?  Well, a few days after the presentation, I made a trip to my local farmers’ market with a deliberate attempt to enhance my leaning experience through buying some of their products.  By the time I was able to visit the market, they had sold out on their produce but I was lucky enough to snag their last Tilapia fish.

Foil-baked, whole Tilapia

Foil-baked, whole Tilapia

I’ve never tried their Tilapia before, thinking it was a little exotic and perhaps pricey.  However, I got cooking instructions during a splendid conversation with Jutta and I was confident I could do it justice.  I felt comfortable asking Jutta more information about her farm, and how to cook the fish because of the community presentation.  It facilitated a nice chat and I have found that I enjoy talking to the people that grown and source my food.

On my way home, I realized that I was feeling quite good about myself because I was trying something new, I was socially interacting with my community, and I was spending more money than I usually would supporting a local business. Also, I realized that I had less anxiety spending that money because I was informed that the premium taste and nutritional value of buying local justifies the cost.  Not to mention that this business needed my support.

Therefore, a learning experience lead to a social interaction, and an economic transaction that made me feel better.  Learning can make you smile.

Have you ever enjoyed a learning experience that made you feel better?  


Comment below, tweet me @gsjonuk, or email me at thejonuks@shaw.ca

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