An abandoned warehouse is set to transform into an indoor farm next year, producing fresh lettuce, squash - even fish - for a community considered to be a "food desert," by the U.S. government.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture designates most of Petersburg as a community devoid of grocery stores, where people cannot find healthy produce. Dr. Marcus Comer, natural resources extension specialist with Virginia State University, leads the team behind Petersburg's future farm.
"We are off the wall excited about this," said Comer in an interview Wednesday. "We're going to produce healthy food for everyone, changing things for the better."
The farm, now known as Petersburg's Sustainable Urban System, will be across the street from the city's new Greyhound bus station, part of a continued effort to revitalize downtown. The South Union Street location used to serve as a warehouse for Petersburg schools, and was originally built for the Roper Grocers Produce Company.
A prototype for the farm now exists at VSU, where water from rainbow trout tanks feeds lettuce plants growing in sponges.
"Nutrients from the fish tank water are pumped into where the lettuce grows," said Dr. Brian Nerrie in an interview Wednesday. "The lettuce roots filter the water. Water passes through other filters, and then flows back into the fish tanks. It's a giant recycling system."
The farm was made possible by a grant from the USDA. The grant's dollar amount has not been publicly disclosed.
"We have plans to take the food we grow out to the community," said Comer. "Think of it like an ice cream truck. It will be a produce truck going around the city."
Construction within the warehouse will begin next year, with food production ready by the second half of 2013.
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