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Aquaponics facility getting new operating partner

Bruce Justice (Mingo Messenger) Jun 4, 2023

The Blue Acre Aquaponics facility at Kermit is getting a new operating partner.

During her monthly report at the May 18 Mingo County Redevelopment Authority meeting, Executive Director Leasha Johnson said officials with the Charleston-based Food and Farm Coalition confirmed earlier in May their commitment to becoming the new operating partner at the facility.

Johnson said an “informative and productive” orientation meeting with Blue Acre’s staff was recently held at the facility.

“The new partnership already will provide for better wages and benefits for the Blue Acre employees,” Johnson said. “Food and Farm has also designated a part-time employee of their own to work at Blue Acre about 20 hours a week to provide product development and delivery support, along with other tasks as needed.”

Johnson said Food and Farm officials also plan to conduct a timing study to determine if there might be a more optimum work schedule for the three men already employed at the facility.

“Right now all three work a 40-hour week, Monday through Friday, and they rotate hours on weekends because the fish have to be fed … there’s also always packing and harvesting that has to be done on the weekend,” she said. “So what Food and Farm has suggested is that they consider some kind of flexible schedule that gives the guys a full weekend off.”

Johnson said Food and Farm officials are also planning to provide support of the facility through grants and by identifying any and all capital improvements that can be made there.

She said the agency also plans to seek out funding to purchase additional equipment, such as automatic feeders for the fish.

“They’re also committed to doing an in-depth analysis regarding the revenue gap (the facility) now has with sales versus its monthly expenses,” she said. “They already have secured some grant funding for the long-term sustainability of the facility.”

Johnson said Food and Farm officials have also already secured a $30,000 grant to put a small grocery store at the facility. She said not only would the grocery sell the facility’s products and those of other local producers, but it also would be selling other wholesale-obtained food staples.

“So the people in the local Kermit community would have a place to buy other fresh foods in addition to what they’re now getting at the facility,” she said.

Johnson said the agency is also in the process of securing funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for another purpose.

“Through their veteran’s program, the Department of Ag is proposing to have some veteran’s come and do some job shadowing and job training at Blue Acre,” she said.

Johnson said an added bonus for having Food and Farm as an operating partner is that the agency will not be charging the MCRA an administrative fee that, she added, former operating partner Sprouting Farms was assessing the facility’s leftover original grant operating money.

“We’re just so thankful they’ve agreed to become our operating partners because they’ll commit marketing resources, they’ll help with product development, and they’ll help with expanding the product market to get the facility’s products sold in other areas and to different customers,” she said.

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