Alternative Vegetable Growing System Helps Feed McDowell County Residents

An alternative growing method for fresh vegetables is helping feed the citizens of Welch, W.Va., thanks to an initiative led by West Virginia State University (WVSU) Extension Service. The University’s aquaponics system, installed at the Welch Armory, recently produced 150 pounds of fresh lettuce that was donated to residents of a local housing community.

WVSU Extension Service will host a free workshop on aquaponics methods Saturday, Sept. 23, at 11 a.m. at the Welch Armory to introduce local growers to the system and its growing methods.

Aquaponics refers to a system in which fish waste supplies nutrients for plant growth. The armory’s system, consisting of three 1,200-gallon tanks filled with tilapia inside a high tunnel structure, is connected to a recirculating hydroponic growing system, which allows plants to grow in the absence of soil in a raised-bed environment. Part of a research project led by WVSU Biology Professor Dr. Jonathan Eya, waste from the fish is used to feed the plants through the recirculating water system. Varying levels of nutrients are provided to the fish in each tank to study the effects of differing feed levels on both fish and plant growth, which, in the initial pilot phase, consisted of lettuce and kale varieties. The project’s first lettuce harvest was donated to residents at Elkhorn Terrace in Welch.

Such aquaponics systems could provide a more sustainable, environmentally friendly alternative growing method for West Virginia farmers on land that isn’t well suited to traditional agriculture.

“Systems such as this give us a way to move onto a piece of land that perhaps has been developed and abandoned, is formerly mined, or vacant lots with soils not suitable for vegetable production,” said WVSU Extension Agent John Bombardiere. “The raised-bed construction also helps in areas prone to high waters from flooding. These systems can be put just about anywhere.”

The workshop will cover the basics of aquaponic growing systems, with particular emphasis on growing within a high tunnel. A discussion of how aquaponics systems can be tailored to individual needs will be provided.

“We will cover fish and plant selection and management, design, components and costs for systems, and potential market outlets for products,” Bombardiere said.

The workshop is free to attend, and registration is not required.

The workshop is supported through funding provided by a USDA 1890 Capacity Building Grant (Award No. 2015-38821-24346) and the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher (2501) Program (Award No. 59-2501-16-043).

The Welch Armory is located at 600 Stewart St. in Welch.

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