Aquaponics Farmers Tonya Penick and Gina Cavaliero Founders and dynamic growing force behind Green Acre Aquaponics.

Aquaponics – Green Acre Aquaponics is a new and exciting commercial aquaponics farm in Brooksville, Florida. When the construction industry started to wane and their long time successful, multi-trade contracting firm began to be affected, the duo knew they had to go in a different direction. That is when they looked to Aquaponics for an answer.

“I remember sitting in the kitchen in tears as we made decisions to lay off many of the staff of our contracting firm”, says Gina Cavaliero, now the Farm and Operations Manager of Green Acre. It had nearly sickened me to make business decisions that were good for our business and bad for the people that had helped make it the success it was. I had looked at Tonya and said, “If I thought we could make a living growing veggies and fish, that’s what we would do!” Little did I know then that it was not only a possibility, but that someone else was actually already doing it! The construction and housing market had already taken a beating and the outlook was dismal.

We had recently been introduced to Aquaponics at a nearby non-profit, whose incredible mission was to solve world hunger with Aquaponics. However the founder there was doubtful that Aquaponics was commercially viable. That just didn’t make sense to us. Somehow we knew that Aquaponics had to be. So, we scrutinized the Aquaponic growing methods,  we researched the market and we compared it to conventional farming and we kept coming up with the same answers. When comparing overhead side by side for growing the same crops in the ground and in the water aquaponically, the costs on the conventional side far outweighed that on the Aquaponics side. We looked at each other in disbelief. Why did so many we had talked to and read about think it couldn’t be profitable?

Well, we drew our own conclusions. At that time, we had found no data or proof out there to support our theory that Aquaponics could grow fruit, veggies and fish and be profitable. However, neither was there any data or proof to say that it couldn’t!  So, armed with optimism and a pioneering spirit, we started to put together plans to create an aquaponic commercial farm.  Undoubtedly, we said, we would squelch the nay-sayers one at a time by doing what they said couldn’t be done.  Then one Sunday morning shortly after, I stumbled upon a website where a husband and wife team that claimed to have a history of killing house plants (not too dissimilar from us!) was making a living growing food aquaponically. They were sustaining themselves and their family feeding others.  I could hardly contain my excitement and rattled off my discovery to Tonya.  ”They are doing it!  They are doing what we want to do!”.  After attending a couple trainings, Tonya and I soon broke ground on the Green Acre farm.  Our extensive construction background made the development easy and with some help here and there, the farm slowly grew into a reality.

We still are so incredulous that we are so lucky and blessed to be able to do something so wonderful. After the competitive world of corporate construction and the unrewarding work, everyday we are still awestruck that this is what we do. We farm. We feed people. WE FEED PEOPLE!  And we also teach other people how to feed people. There is nothing more rewarding, more moving, more motivating.  We hope you too will want to join us.  Be a part of our Farm Revolution. That’s who we are at Green Acre Aquaponics and we would be forever thankful if you let us help you to become that person too.

A little more about the founders…

Gina Cavaliero studied Anthropology and Education at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Science in 1995.  Her long time interest in Southwest American Indians was her focus for her collegiate studies and led her to reside in Phoenix, Arizona where she met Tonya Penick.   At that time Tonya was an expert custom furniture finisher, where she perfected finishes on high end pieces, some valued at over a $100,000. While in the Southwest, Gina pursued positions with various Indian tribes and the BIA where she might utilize her degree specializing in Southwest American Indians and education.

Upon relocating to Florida the two began a small residential painting business.  As housing boomed, the business partners built the one time small paint company into a multi-million dollar contracting firm, providing services from drywall, to stucco, framing, and insulation. When housing began to dwindle, the duo nimbly transformed the company into a commercial and multi-family provider. Since transitioning out of construction, both have pursued other interests and goals.

Gina is a certified horse barefoot trimmer and helps horses find symmetry and balance by balancing the hoof first.  Gina has three herself, Juju, a Percheron/Quarterhorse cross, Belle, a Spotted Saddlebred and Lil’ Bit, an Appaloosa mini.   Two of which were rescues and Gina also practices Parelli Natural Horsemanship.  Horses are Gina’s other passion.

For Tonya, the sky beckons.  She is an avid skydiver and plans to become a powered paraglider  pilot and guide.  Both love animals of all kinds and often rescue and rehabilitate strays that come their way.   Each have beloved  Weimeraner dogs, Beau and Dutchie, many chickens, of course fish and Peanut the cat.