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Virginia State University Extension Exploring Aquaponics

Virginia State University is ready to begin construction on a unique Aquaponics research lab in a downtown Petersburg warehouse. Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture, or fish-farming, and hydroponics, growing plants without dirt in nutrient rich water. It’s an ancient concept but a comparatively new scientific field and Virginia State University is on the cutting edge. WCVE Public Radio’s John Ogle has this Science Matters video report.

VSU Professor Dr. Marcus Comer says garden produce such as lettuce, tomatoes and herbs will grow alongside tilapia and trout in a symbiotic relationship. Plants grow from the nitrates and waste in the water from the fish. In turn, the plants clean the water for the fish, circulating it through a closed system. Feed the fish and they feed the plants. He says the three story warehouse building they’ll use on South Union Street in downtown Petersburg is a perfect fit. One of the goals of the new lab is to explore alternative energy sources and to move as “off grid” as possible.

According to Dr. Comer, “the facility will be primarily a research facility with production, classrooms and laboratories.  But another outcome will be to have fresh food available via mobile units and an on-site store to sell fresh produce.” VSU intends to involve college students from local universities in the research and production, to provide tours and programs for K-12 students and to involve 4-H, environmental and community organizations in various aspects of the lab. This is a great opportunity for the new lab to positively impact the community.

Funding is in place now, and the indoor aqua-farm, university research lab, classrooms, and produce market should be up and running this year.

For more information contact Dr. Marcus Comer at mcomer@vsu.edu

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