Tens of thousands of fish are raised at Blue Stream Aquaculture in West Barnstable to supply fishing derbies, rod and gun clubs and private hatcheries and ponds.
What’s also produced is a lot of fish excrement.
Keith Wilda, who owns Blue Stream with partner Jim Malandrinos, learned by accident that fish waste makes a potent, effective soil conditioner when he mixed it with filtered water and sprayed it around his five-acre property’s lawns and on plants, such as a spindly fig tree that came with the place when he bought it six years ago.
“This year, I’ve harvested 145 figs from this tree,” he said, pointing out a lush, fruit-laden tree on a recent tour of the enterprise. “And my lawn has never looked greener. We’d been trying it for years, but when the pandemic hit, we needed a new revenue stream for the business as we lost 45 percent of our revenues when fishing derbies were canceled last year.”
They called the product Fish Brew and it hit the market in March and April 2021.
Blue Water Aquaculture LLC operates on a historical archeological site that has been used continuously for farming since 1713, according to Barnstable historical archives. One use was as a tannery and two former tannery ponds now serve as habitat for the growing fish: four kinds of trout (brown, brook, rainbow and tiger) are raised from spawn in ponds fed by natural artesian springs.
Wilda and his partner purchased the existing West Barnstable fish hatchery six years ago. The business also includes fish farms in New Hampshire and in Western Massachusetts. They recently acquired oyster farms in Fairhaven and Mattapoisett.
Wilda grew up in Hadley, a Western Massachusetts’ town near Amherst, and he’s worked on farms since he was young. He’s been involved with fish farms for decades. Wilda established the nonprofit Friends of the Berkshire Fish Hatchery, which supported the work at the research station run by UMass Amherst where he was the Director of Western Massachusetts for Sustainable Aquaculture.
He met his wife Reagan, who does the public relations and marketing for the business, on a fish farm. The couple have three daughters who are sometimes recruited to lend a hand, such as affixing labels onto Fish Brew plastic bottles.
Blue Stream Aquaculture is set on a tranquil 8.5 acres, surrounded by conservation land and is the most “natural” side of the business’s fish farms. Vats, raceways, ponds, solar panels, pumps, greenhouses and outbuildings are scattered around the wooded property. Three and a half acres are used for the hatchery. In early fall, birdsong was melodious and monarch butterflies still flitted on the purple blooms of a butterfly bush. Most of the year, the farm’s electricity is produced by solar power.
Creating A Living Soil
Fish Brew is derived from fish excrement and filtered water from their aquaculture farms in West Barnstable and Charlestown, N.H. The “brew” is filled with healthy organisms that come from raising fish in healthy aquatic environments, Wilda said.
Products include Fish Brew Bold FLO™, Fish Brew Epic Flow and Fish Brew Hydrolysate, with different uses prescribed for each (house plants, gardens, lawns). This past summer, a microbiologist tested all three products on site for quality control.
“She viewed the products under the microscope on a daily basis,” said Wilda. “She did product testing/trials with all of our Fish Brew products so we can stand behind our products.”
Fish Brew is sold in 14 retail locations, including Agway of Cape Cod, and Always Green Hydroponics in Plymouth and Pocasset. Wilda hopes to gain more vendors, as well as market the product wholesale to turf growers, golf courses and landscapers. Fish Brew is also sold in bulk quantities.
Gardeners who have tested the soil conditioner, including Wilda who grows hydroponic plants and vegetables in a greenhouse on the property, attest to the effectiveness of the products that result in lush, green foliage and vigorous growth with almost no pest issues, due to Fish Brew’s probiotic ingredients (filtered living organisms) that serve as an inoculant to the soil. It’s also odorless.
“One guy I sold this to, who used exclusively chemical fertilizers on his lawn, said he was able to get rid of the fertilizers completely,” Wilda said. “It’s one thing for Farmer Keith to use it in his backyard, but when lots of people test it, word of mouth is powerful.”