PENSACOLA, Fla. — Buzzard Anderson can build pretty much anything. He’s built his own boat before. He’s built a farm out of PVC and sewer pipes.
“I’m a builder,” he said, sitting in the shade in the back of Crazy Farmers Market, a business he operates with his life partner Sonya Cool Merritt. “But I’m also a thinker.”
Anderson has to know a lot of things to operate the Crazy Farmers Market. He needs to know plant biology, water chemistry, irrigation, aeration and construction.
Buzzard and Sonya have owned and operated Crazy Farmers Market for a few years now. He’s the former owner of the old Nautical Steam Shack next to the old Bayou Chico drawbridge. She’s a long-time Pensacolian whose family has deep roots in the community.
And now those roots are growing in water. Crazy Farmers Market is an aquaponic farm, meaning it combines aquaculture — aquatic animals such as snails, goldfish, shrimp or crawfish — with hydroponics, which is the cultivation of plants in water. The couple grows everything from basil and mint to various vegetables, using hydroponics fueled by fish waste.
“We use the natural fertilizer of fish poop,” Buzzard said, checking one of his many hydroponic gizmos he has created throughout the years. “The water has its nutrients generated by that.”
He points to a muddy looking stream gently moving in one of his hydroponic contraptions.
“See that? See the color of the water? You want that brown color.”
He pulls a small chard plant out of a container that had been floating on the nutrient-filled water. Goo drips down off the small root bed.
“You see that goop?” Buzzard asked. “That’s the cellulose from the fish poop. We’ve got some good root systems coming in.”
The couple keeps goldfish in most of the hydroponic systems to generate nutrients, though they will also experiment with a hydroponic system that uses a nutrient supplement instead of fish waste.
“There’s a lot to know,” he said. “You have to know the chemistry.”
Sonya said he leaves the water science to Buzzard. She just concentrates on the plants.
“We grow herbs, vegetables, and they’re fresh and they taste great,” Sonya said. “Here, try this okra.”
She hands her guest a piece of crunchy, light-green okra she just plucked off a plant.
“They’re good and I don’t even like okra usually,” she said.
Buzzard said fall and spring are great times for hydroponic gardening and farming — summer is too hot, he said.
Currently, he’s building a small hydroponic system to display at the Clean Energy Fest on Nov. 5 in downtown Pensacola. And he said he can build a hydroponic system for others as well — for a price.
“This one here can grow 78 plants,” he said, pointing to one ziz-zagging system that moved water through a variety of pipes. Buzzard had cut 78 holes in the pipes to hold small cups of seedlings and small plants. “It cost about $400 for supplies.”
Sonya said hydroponics is complicated, but if someone is interested, Butch would be a great teacher.
“He knows all the science,” she said. “And he can build anything.”