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Officials: Aquaponics facility nearing operational stage

Not only is the aquaponics facility near Kermit on the cusp of completion and close to being production ready, but the facility at First Burning Creek now also has an official name—Blue Acre Aquaponics Center.

She said the interior rooms are also finished, and, with the exception of a few punch list items including the hanging of gas heaters, all of which should be achieved by the first of the year, the building is essentially ready for the equipment installation.

“The equipment is scheduled will be delivered (this week) … they let me know they’ve been holding the equipment for us until such time that Sprouting Farms (the facility’s operating company) could get some people hired, which they’re in the process of doing now,” Johnson said.

Johnson said once the first two people are hired, likely by next week, these employees will be traveling to the company from which the aquaponics facility’s equipment is coming—Nelson and Pade in Wisconsin—for equipment training.

In addition to employee interviews, Johnson said contractor Persinger & Associates has also installed security cameras with around the clock live-feed and recording capability, which has eliminated the necessity to have a security guard onsite.

A marketing firm in Charleston, 84 Agency, assisted the MCRA with the development of a facility name and a branding campaign, which she said will effectively reach the audience of facility’s products.

“It will additionally authenticate the value of the project … the goals and values of innovation, food access, community inclusion, economic diversification and education,” she said. “It’s our intention, once it’s is up and running, to really focus on this facility having an educational component where school groups can come and tour and growers can come to learn more about the concept in general.”

Johnson said the facility’s name carries an array of symbolic meaning

“Blue is suggestive of water, as well as having a local connection to the color of (Kermit schools’) Blue Devils mascot because the Kermit community wrapped its arms around this project from the very beginning,” she said. “The Acre sort of points toward farming, land and food, so we’re really excited about what 84 Agency has been able to do with this and many other aspects of the branding campaign.”

The $3.6 million project, first announced just prior to Christmas in 2016, derived its funding through the 2016 Abandoned Mine Lands (AML) Pilot Program and the DEP.

In addition to being an immediate employment and training source for Mingo and nearby counties, when operational the facility and training center will provide a local and regional market for fresh greens and tilapia (around $12,000 and $6,000 in monthly sales, respectively), as well as represent a model that can be implemented in other coalfield communities, Johnson said.

After additional discussion the board agreed to conduct next month’s meeting at the facility, at which time a ribbon-cutting ceremony is also being scheduled.

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