After the dinner with the community on Saturday, followed by the workshop on Sunday, I must confess that what I was looking forward to the most was just hanging out with Murray Hallam for a couple of days. After breakfast on Monday (he has two eggs and coffee for breakfast every morning) I dropped him off to spend a couple hours with a fan from Houston who had flown out just to spend time with Murray discussing her aquaponics project. The afternoon was spent eating lunch at the Dushanbe Tea House, followed by a drive through the mountains, a visit to the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), and a family dinner at a local Mexican dive. Tuesday he held court with the ladies of Grow Your Own Meal, then on to Chautauqua to have lunch with Nate Storey, the inventor of the ZipGrow Vertical Aquaponic Growing System.
When you spend the better part of two days with someone much is said, and most was shared in confidence so I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint those Murray fans out there who are looking for some juicy news . That said, I did learn some interesting things about Murray that I don’t think he would mind my passing on to you.
Murray on Aquaponics
- In general – Murray would turn to me occasionally and say “isn’t it marvelous that we can be involved in something that get’s people so excited?” Murray believes wholeheartedly in the message that aquaponics must be a part of any future global food solution. He is a true pied piper, spreading that message to anyone who will listen. I never get tired of talking about aquaponics; it is so important, he would say.
- It’s an ecosystem! – if there is a sub-theme to Murray’s class, videos and philosophy, it is that the secret to successful aquaponics is to never forget that you are creating an interdependent ecosystem. If you separate the components, or start adding artificial ingredients, or forget that in an ecosystem man’s role is to facilitate, not control and conquer, then your aquaponics system will fail.
- It doesn’t have to be difficult – People who run aquaponics businesses who tell you that they have a ‘secret ingredient’ are making it up in order to improve their sales. Aquaponics is not difficult once you understand the basic principles and set up your system using some basic rules of thumb.
- Use high quality components – Murray is a spokesperson for aquaponics, not a sales person for an aquaponics system. He will tell you that 80% of aquaponic gardeners are DIYers, and 20% are interested in a turn-key aquaponics kit. He dreams of a world where everyone has an aquaponics system in their home, and if some of them are his system then all the better. His message is: If you build your own, be sure to use high quality, food safe components.
- American vs Australian aquaponics – Murray feels that part of the reason why Australia is so far ahead of the U.S. in home-based aquaponics is that the early pioneers in the U.S. focused on commercial systems first. He feels we will soon catch up.
- Future projects – The good news is that Murray is an amazing fountain of ideas and projects, and he is just getting warmed up. He has many more videos in various stages, a possible book, some commercial aspirations, research partnerships, and the list goes on and on. I began to wonder when he sleeps (he is an early to bed, early to rise kind of guy).
The personal side of Murray
- Marriage – This is a guy who adores Gail, his wife of 40+ years. They work together, and almost never fight (my dad told me a man’s got to have a major piece of machinery he can go out to the shed and work on when things get tense). He talked about her like a love sick teenager and you could tell that he missed her terribly (“couldn’t sleep last night. I think I was just excited to think that I’ll be seeing my Gail soon”). They clearly have a very rare relationship.- Food and Drink – Murray doesn’t drink and tries to avoid bread in an effort to lose weight (yeah, my Gail would get mad at me). He is otherwise willing to eat just about anything and usually had us order for him. He thinks that the pescetarian description I use for my family is very funny. I had the entertaining privilege of introducing him to chai and fish tacos.
- America – Murray loved Colorado. He says Aussies generally love Americans as much as they love Aussies (Is that why Australia is such a favorite travel destination?). He thinks we are terribly polite and friendly (go figure!) and was blown away by the warmth of what he calls our ‘service economy’. I told him it was because of his accent and because he actually says ‘crikey’.
I’m typically ready for a house guest to leave after a few intense days, but not so with Murray. I felt I had found an aquaponic soul mate and his departure signaled the end of a truly remarkable four days. When I got back home after driving him to the Denver airport, I discovered that he had left his demonstration bell siphon (on purpose) and his cap (not on purpose). He wants us to keep both. I think I’ll hang the cap in the greenhouse so his spirit can become part of my personal ecosystem. Crikey.