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KERMIT, W.Va. — The Mingo County Redevelopment Authority recently hosted a tour at the new aquaponics facility, located on the old Burning Creek Mine property on the outskirts of the city limits in Kermit, West Virginia.

Leasha Johnson, executive director of the MCRA; chairman of the MCRA board of directors Paul Pinson; and MCRA board member Brandon Sammons welcomed Kermit Mayor Charles Sparks and the Kermit Town Council as they received an update on the facility, which is on the brink of being operational.

Fritz Boettner, director of the Sprouting Farms nonprofit, a West Virginia-based company brought in to manage the facility, was on hand to unveil the name of the aquaponics facility and offer some background on what they will be offering.

“We came in and had a sit-down with the folks in Kermit a while back about what is the essence of Kermit, because we want this place to be grounded in Kermit,” Boettner said. “Our marketing team did a good job of understanding the history of Kermit and making the name place-based. We know the mascot here is the Blue Devil, so what we came up with was Blue Acre Appalachian Aquaponics.”

Boettner said that Blue Acre Appalachian Aquaponics will raise tilapia, which in turn will provide the water and nutrients to the greenhouse, which will grow hundreds of heads of lettuce daily as well as other leafy greens.

“This place is going to be a consistent supply of product,” Boettner said. “Two hundred and fifty heads of lettuce a day, coming off every day, very consistently. That happens because you have these grow lights and you have a controlled environment.”

Boettner said Blue Acre Appalachian Aquaponics is a state-of-the-art facility that plays a critical role in continuing developing the food system not just in Mingo County, but in the entire state of West Virginia.

“We can produce a lot on a little bit of land, right here,” Boettner said. “I think that is a model, the model of producing a lot on a little to feed markets is what West Virginia needs to do. We don’t have square miles of flat lands; that’s not the type of farming that we do here. … So I think this place can help to provide that model.”

Boettner said Sprouting Farms, which is located in Talcott in Summers County, also operates a food hub called Turnrow, which aggregates products from farmers all over the state. He said local farmers also can use Turnrow to distribute their products throughout the state.

Boettner said that aquaponics facility should receive its first round of fingerling fish in March. It will take a few months for the fish to grow large enough to provide enough nutrients to actually feed the plants. He expects the lettuce to begin growing in June.

The plans for the project were initially announced in 2016 by the MCRA and is a part of the Abandoned Mine Lands Pilot Program and the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

Johnson said the project resulted in several abandoned mine portals being shut off so they are no longer a potential hazard to wandering humans or wildlife.

Once fully operational, Blue Acre Appalachian Aquaponics is expected to have 12 employees.

“I’m tickled to death that we are here today, because we got off to a rocky start,” said Kermit councilman Dr. J.W. Endicott. “I think I made the comment that I didn’t think I would live to see this, but I’m glad I have. We are all excited.”

Jarrid McCormick is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He can be reached by email at jmccormick@hdmediallc.com.

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