Meeting with Kate Holcomb for the Tao Aquaponics Greenhouse

 By Annie Glen

This summer, Kate Holcomb and Cara Stalder, the chef and owner of Tao Yuan Restaurant, received approval from the Brunswick Town Planning Department to build an aquaponics greenhouse, a dream of Cara’s since she first purchased the land years ago. According to Kate, Cara has always wanted to have farm-restaurant collaboration, yet this dream was put on hold due to land ordinances in the area. However, Cara never let go of her dream to have a greenhouse in close proximity to her restaurant and three years ago, she received news that there are no laws forbidding the construction of the greenhouse and therefore, finally started the planning process.

Post college, Kate Holcomb decided to go into agricultural education and understood she needed experience in the field. Therefore, she started working at farms. She fell in love with the process of farming and has been working in agriculture since. Because of this background and experience in farming, three years ago Cara called her old friend Kate, who she has known since preschool, and asked her to help with the proposed aquaponics project,  and they have been working on it ever since.

The greenhouse will have two levels, the first level consisting of a bakery (run by Tao) and a commercial kitchen. The second level will house the aquaponics greenhouse. Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals, in this case fish) and hydroponics (cultivation of plants in water). This combination creates a symbiotic relationship in which all components are working together to sustain the ecosystem. The fish waste is broken down by microbes into nitrates, which are utilized by plants as nutrients. Then the plants filter the water, which recirculates to the fish tank. Trout are anticipated to be the fish of choice for the project, as they are a local fish, therefore easy to replace, and Cara can cook a wide variety of dishes with trout at Tao. Kate explained that for the crops, they plan to have their greenhouse different than most aquaponics. Kate said, typically aquaponic greenhouses are either small with a diverse array of crops but only a few of each (hobby greenhouses) or they are large specializing in one major crop. Kate wants this greenhouse to grow both a significant yield and a diverse array of produce, with a large portion dedicated to Asian crops that are harder source locally.

Kate and Cara have goals to work with student interns, give tours to local schools and to make this greenhouse an educational experience. They anticipate this project will make Brunswick more of a food hub and inspire people to grow their own food and to source local food in their daily diet. They are excited they received approval to build the greenhouse in a central location, as it is accessible to everyone in the community and will spark more conversations about food in our community.

This is a very exciting project for Brunswick and we wish them the best in their endeavors. It was a pleasure to talk with Kate Holcomb and learn more about her role in the planning of the greenhouse.