A little more than three years after the project was first announced in December 2016, the Blue Acre Appalachian Aquaponics facility at Kermit has finally reached a near production level status.
During the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority’s regular meeting which was held last week on the premises, officials said the facility’s operating equipment is now onsite and installation should be completed in the next few weeks.
The purpose of holding the meeting at the facility, MCRA Executive Director Leasha Johnson explained to the sizable crowd that attended the meeting, was to give the MCRA Board of Directors and members of Kermit Town Council an opportunity to tour the building and grounds and see firsthand how the facility will operate once in full production.
Fritz Boettner, who is director of Sprouting Farms which is the operational partner of the facility along with the MCRA, conducted the tour of the facility. Boettner began by explaining how Sprouting Farms is a non-profit company that focuses on economic development with a specific focus on agriculture.
He said this agricultural focus is a perfect fit in this instance because the aquaponics facility will be a consistent supplier of fresh greens throughout the region and will serve as a model for the startup of similar facilities throughout both the region and state.
When in full production, Boettner went on to explain, aside from lettuce the facility will produce other leafy greens like kale and chard that are also consistently in great demand.
Although the primary purpose of the fish component of the operation will be to supply the plants with nutrient-rich fertilizer, he said the facility will also sell fresh tilapia.
“These are going to be highly nutritious greens that schools want, that all customers want, and if we can begin to use this as an anchor point to develop this market then other farmers will participate,” he said.
Boettner said the facility’s first two onsite employees, Kermit area residents and co-managers Christian Williams and Jack Smith, traveled to Wisconsin recently to receive training from the system equipment supplier, Nelson and Pade, on installation of the operating equipment.
“All the equipment is here and we’ll be putting it together in the next month or so,” he said. “Once that happens we will get the fish, which takes a while for them to grow to produce enough nutrient material to actually feed the plants. So we’re looking at around June because it takes about three to four months for this system to charge itself up and become fully operational.”
Boettner said once the facility is operating at full capacity it will employ approximately 10 to 12 local people. Also after becoming operational, he said an additional focus will be placed on the facility having an educational component where both school groups and growers can come to learn more about the aquaponics concept.
“This is like a very interesting science experiment that’s happening on the other side of these walls...you can see the fish swimming, you can see all these biological processes that are happening,” he said.
“This will be a place where people can come to learn all about aquaponics.”
The $3.6 million project, first announced just prior to Christmas in 2016, received its funding through the 2016 Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Pilot Program and the DEP.
Boettner said a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony will take place sometime after the facility is in full production.