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Balance Farms has the ability to produce four pounds of basil, 2,000 heads of lettuce, and a smattering of bok choy every week. They then hand-deliver this produce to 30 restaurants in the area (including Balance Grille), all from an 8,600 square-foot downtown warehouse. The aquaponic farm has pushed the limits for sustainable food in numerous categories in its ability to grow in this capacity. Dan Sadoski, along with Karamachandani and Jang, are truly the masterminds behind the innovation; starting from the idea, down to the mechanics of the systems in place, these three worked together to create this remarkable Sustainable indoor farm.
The idea started with Dan Sadoski, the head designer, mechanic, and inspiration behind Balance Farms. Sadoski, previously working in the Information Technology field, has a passion for food, building personal relationships, and starting something new in the world of sustainability. “Our inputs and outputs are all reused, we compost, we use very little water compared to traditional farming, and we are able to compete and compare to distribution models because we are using less energy,” says Sadoski. “[We are] building more of an ecological system of beneficial organisms that work together, that’s how there is less loss than traditional farming.” The creators of the farm can touch on all aspects of sustainability regarding farming and agriculture because they are using their brainpower to work around obstacles that cause traditional farmers big problems.
One of the most major aspects of sustainability that is knocked out of the park by Balance Farms is their aquaponic system. Aquaponics, the cultivation and symbiotic relationship of plants and fish without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides, was designed and set up in the warehouse by Sadoski and other Balance Farms biology, botany, and horticulture staff. The warehouse holds several bays of 5-by-6 foot trays of plants. These trays are fed by water that flows utilizing gravity alone throughout the entire warehouse. There is only one pump present in the whole warehouse, and it is used as a sump pump to prevent overflow and flooding issues. The water starts the cycle in multiple tanks filled with Tilapia. Here the fish provide the water with nutrients, through their excreted ammonia, and then continues flowing through tubes of PVC piping throughout the farm. This water now provides those same nutrients, in the form of nitrogen, to the plants, which use their roots to filter the water, and the cycle continues. The entire aquaponics system that Balance Farms has created only requires 10% of the water that is used in traditional farming for the same amount of output. This is because the water is kept in a closed circuit, unlike traditional farming practices where water is lost in the form of runoff. Since 2017, Balance has saved 7,600 gallons of water.
Balance Pan-Asian Grille became such a success because of the deep-rooted values of transparency, community, and sustainability embedded into the company and the people who work there. Prakash Karamachandani and HoChan Jang, after the initial startup of Balance Grille, wanted to find a way to provide fresh produce to their community and do it sustainably. They wanted to build an environment of people that work together to provide good, fresh food for the community they served while contributing as little harm to the environment as possible and have less loss in a product than traditional farming. They had the idea to create a farm in a climate-controlled indoor space that could provide fresh produce to the community 365 days a year. With little experience in installing and managing the systems for this farm they dreamt about, they searched for some help.
That’s where Dan Sadoski comes in. The master mechanic and designer of the farm, Sadoski retired from his work in technology and industrial equipment with a newfound passion for food and sustainable systems. He set out on a search for a job that would allow him to reach these goals and be the next phase of his life. “I wanted local, I wanted to build more personal relationships with clients, wanted to create something new.” So, Sadoski started reading about aquaponics, got in touch with Karamachandani and Jang, and got to work creating Balance Farms. Fueled by the passion to create an innovation that is beneficial to the environment and the community, Sadoski, Karamachandani, and Jang worked for three years to get the farm to where it is today. Sadoski says that Balance Farms is a “profitable and sustainable business, but most of these [businesses] fail because they don’t have the full skill set on sight. Why is this successful and others aren’t? Understanding the investment needed: you are going to make mistakes; you are going to have crop losses. It takes a while to build this up and learn.” In other words, businesses like Balance Farms don’t sustain themselves. They take a lot of hard work, a dedicated team, and multiple failed attempts to reach end goals. In short, the inspiration behind Balance Farms came from the aim of its creators to produce less loss in a product, less loss in energy, a more enriched sense of community, and benefit the environment and society.
The establishment of Balance Farms has created a lasting positive impact on society, Balance itself, and the environment. Socially, Balance has created a strong community with their customers in providing them the fresh produce they need. This partnership with their clients started with the goal of reaching local markets, and in the long-term, fostering relationships with other organizations that can benefit from Balance and whom Balance can benefit from as well.
Another huge aspect of sustainability for the farm involves reducing food miles. Sadoski puts it this way: “as far as sustainability, all restaurants that are getting microgreens from other sources get their greens FedExed to them with an ice pack. How efficient is that? [Balance Farms is] getting more nutritious product, free of preset tubes and pesticides with more profound flavor.” It’s true, food grown all over the world gets shipped to restaurants and grocery stores in the US by rail, boat, road, and air. Altogether, this creates massive amounts of emissions as the transportation sector relies heavily on fossil fuels that create carbon emissions. Studies estimate that fresh produce in the United States travels over 1,500 miles before being consumed. By driving out weekly in their own company van to hand-deliver produce to its customers, Balance Farms has saved 20,000 food miles. By doing so, they are contributing to the reduction in carbon emissions while connecting with local markets.
Balance Pan-Asian Grille has benefited from the creation of Balance Farms. As a restaurant, they can use this local source of produce which saves on shipping costs and overall costs related to obtaining healthy produce. Since Balance Farms personally delivers produce to their own restaurant locations, the produce has a longer shelf-life because it travels a shorter distance, so it lasts longer. Produce that ships from California might only have a lifespan of a couple of weeks, while Balance Farms has the ability to transport their produce within 24 hours, prolonging the shelf-life.
On top of growing produce for their own restaurants, Balance Farms sells their produce to restaurants in the surrounding Northwest Ohio area that are looking for fresh, organic, locally grown vegetables and microgreens. Besides the sale of produce, Balance Farms obtains secondary revenue streams including the sale of Tilapia and compost from Tilapia waste and vegetable trimmings.
Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) is a voluntary certification program that verifies through an audit that sound food safety practices are being used. This helps reduce the risk of microbial contamination in fruits, vegetables, and nuts and aims to make sure these foods are safe for you to eat. Sadoski has gone through the process of getting Balance Farms GAP certified. He explained it to be a very quick and easy process with the farm setup he has. This certification is greatly benefiting society by showing the unique modern way they are growing vegetables. They are also in the process of working with the Imagination Station in downtown Toledo to create an informational exhibit at their farm to inform children as well as the general public on these innovative agricultural processes.
Balance Farms is also directly impacting the Toledo environment. By not allowing the water to runoff into The Maumee river, they are actively reducing the amount of agricultural runoff into Lake Erie, which is the main contributor to Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). They are also reducing food mile related carbon emissions. By servicing local restaurants instead of farms from thousands of miles away, they are cutting the emissions drastically. They are also able to generate products all year round, not just during the growing season, which means higher yield during the winter months, which is huge in Toledo.
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Dan Sadoski, Lead Mechanic
Balance Grille in the Toledo, Ohio area is doing more for the world than just providing hungry Toledoans with delicious Pan-Asian cuisine. Balance has truly set the standard for sustainability and innovation for human and global good in the restaurant and food business. The local restaurant was established in 2010 by Prakash Karamachandani and HoChan Jang, to provide healthy, vegetable-based, delicious food to the people of Toledo and allowing their customers to see where their food is coming from. On top of their successful restaurant franchise, Balance occupies space in Downtown Toledo where a network of energy-efficient aquaponic systems exists. These systems and the amazing mechanics and scientists who created them, work to provide fresh, completely organically grown produce to 30 restaurants a week in the Northwest Ohio/Michigan area. Balance Farms, the successful and sustainable business innovation, has been a part of Balance Pan-Asian Grille for five years now (three years in the making) and is paving the way for sustainable food and energy practices in restaurants across the globe.