Casey Miller of Greener Portions

Greener Portions offers fresh fruit and vegetables grown using the aquaponics system. Aquaponics—the growing of plants with their roots directly submerged in the nutrient-rich water of live fish—has grown in popularity over recent years, and as an added bonus, is a great way to farm fresh fish for the table.

Casey Miller and his fiancé, Mary Ann Brinkmeyer, started Greener Portions as a hobby, but quickly realized its potential. Greener Portions now offers fish and produce, and can help you create your own indoor aquaponics systems.

How did you start your business?
We started the business for a few different reasons. I started an aquaponics system at home for our personal use as a hobby shortly after the New Year 2012. My fiancé and I were looking to improve the quality of the food we ate (local, high quality, fresh) and were becoming more health conscious at the time.

Two things happened—we figured out pretty quickly that aquaponics was an incredibly effective way to grow things, and we saw that the quality of the fresh food in Cincinnati was lacking at times. Fresh organic food is often flown in from various corners of the country and world, so we asked ourselves, why isn't Cincinnati providing fresh food for Cincinnati?

This led us to developing the business plan, scouting out space, and months later, here we are, ready for our first small harvest.

This also came at a time where I was extremely dissatisfied with my job and the prospects that were in front of me. I was looking for a change and to have more freedom in the work I did. Starting our own business would offer all of this, along with adequate challenges to keep things interesting.

How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I was looking for a new hobby that would fit with the goal of becoming more healthy and consuming higher quality, local and fresh food. I started to research ways to become more self-sufficient and provide food for myself and fiancé. I found a book on aquaponics and couldn't put it down.

I knew at that moment that this was something I was extremely interested in and wanted to do right away. It sort of snow-balled from there, and I have been hooked ever since.

That book led to more research, which led me to Friendly Aquaponics, a great group out of Hawaii. I attended a training seminar in Tennessee where I got to see the technology firsthand and learn about doing aquaponics on a commercial scale. The owners of Friendly Aquaponics also provided a building plan and guidance to get me through the construction and system start-up phases. 

What Cincinnati resources did you take advantage of and how did they help?
When we started construction on the infrastructure of the system, we made a point to try and source all of our materials locally using other small businesses. The grading of our site, the lumber, PVC piping, construction materials and the majority of the hardware and tools were all sourced from small businesses here. If I couldn't find it locally, the rest came from other places in Ohio. We felt that doing our best to stimulate the local economy was very important. 

How is Cincinnati a unique city for entrepreneurs?
Cincinnati is a great place for entreprenuers, in my opinion. There are so many unique and wonderful interests people have here.

I saw the local food movement really taking hold here and knew that if we could provide a source for that, people would embrace us. So far, the response to what we're doing has been extremely positive.

I would also say that Cincinnati has a great mix of established businesses and young, up-and-coming operations that add to the appeal for me because I see that success is possible and there's plenty of room for growth. Our city is a great mixture of big city opportunity with small town appeal, and I love it here. 

What is next for you and your company?
We are currently looking to establish relationships with distribution groups to provide us an outlet to share our produce with the city. We have met with Green BEAN Delivery, but nothing has been finalized there.

At this time, we are closing in on our first small harvest of romaine lettuce, and we have much more coming soon, including basil, cilantro, tomatoes and parsley. We are also working to get our USDA Organic Certification and improve our operation through constructing a seeding table. We are looking forward to what the future holds and seeing where this experience takes us. 

What would you do differently if you started your business again?
If I had to to everything over again, I would have been less stubborn and hired someone to help out once our volunteering friends couldn't assist any longer. Finishing the project alone was difficult but also rewarding.

I also would have planned out my seeding scale up so we had more product available earlier. All in all, this has been such a great experience that I wouldn't change much at all. We are looking forward to the future!

Interview by Sean Peters