North Maclean’s Murray and Gail Hallam make a living from teaching people how to farm fresh produce without soil or fertilisers.

Farming in aquaponics is the freshest way to do it, and the Hallams are experts at it.

As owner operators of their farm, Practical Aquaponics in North Maclean, they have been educating people from all over the world in the field of aquaponics for the last 15 years.

“It’s a good story this whole thing, with the worldwide reach we’ve got, and we’re just little people in a tiny shoebox office here in the back blocks of North McLean,” says Mr Hallam.

“The things that are happening around the world is astonishing.”

Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture, which is farm fishing, and hydroponics, which is growing plants without regular soil.

“Aquaponics is seen as being pure, it’s not chemical-based, we can’t spray typical insecticides to keep control of the insects in the place, because if we do we’ll kill the fish,” says Mr Hallam.

The fish bind the system together: their waste, collected at the bottom of tanks, breaks down and releases nutrients which are then distributed to plants growing in beds and trays of plants without soil. 

Plant roots clean the water as it passes through the system, before filtering back into the fish tanks to complete the closed cycle or loop.

Accidental experiment led to where they are today

The Hallams got started in aquaponics by accident.

“I’d like to be able to say I went and did an MDA, planned the business, did all the stuff that you’re supposed to do they teach you at university, but the business is purely an accident,” says Mr Hallam.

“I’d only done it for a year before it turned into something more serious.

“I thought after a few weeks it was going quite well, so I put up a website, and that’s how it got started.

“We got that many inquiries off the website I couldn’t believe it, I thought ‘what the hell is going on here?’”

The Hallams’ reputation in aquaponics grew quickly, so much so that they have travelled all over the world presenting their work at seminars.

“There were already people in America doing aquaponics but they weren’t very well known, but we just seemed to develop a very early reputation for doing what we were doing,” says Mr Hallam. 

Mr Hallam has presented numerous seminars in the USA, including as a keynote speaker at the World Aquaponics Association Conference in Orlando, Florida, USA, in 2011. He has also presented at seminars in Hungary, Portugal, South Africa, Morocco, and Taiwan.

Through their online and in-person workshops, the Hallams have tutored people from 110 countries, which they say has led to some incredible projects, ranging from the smallest of individual farms to those on mass industrial scales.

One of their major success stories is that of Arvind Venkat, an Armenian-born Indian who, using the knowledge he gained from the Hallams has built 17 farms now.

“He discovered aquaponics and came down to three of my seminars in the USA.

“His aim was to build 100 acres of aquaponics farms around the world for other people, so he’s well on the way to achieving that goal, having built farms in Oman, Bahrain, India, Saudi, Canada, and Texas.”

Mr Venkat’s next project is to establish another farm in Oman to try and strengthen the local food chain in the area, where so much of the food is imported due to the country’s difficult growing conditions.

“He’s doing a lot of work on the next Oman farm, which is going to be about $3 million dollars, and it’s going to be in a massive warehouse, so pretty much weatherproof and it is going to be air-conditioned.”

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