Aquaponics Facility Attracts Attention of US EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and Others

March 20, 2012

A delegation of representatives from Philadelphia and Washington DC visited Cheyney's campus on March 13. Cheyney University staff - Dr. Steven Hughes, Eric Almonte, Heidi Wood-Tucker and Larry Green - served as hosts. The attendees came from the US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Region 3 and Washington Headquarters, local and Washington Office representatives of the National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service Annapolis Field Office, and the District of Columbia Department of the Environment.  Other guests included staff from Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Anacostia Riverkeeper, and alumni of Washington DC's Coolidge High School. 
During the tour of the Aquaponics facility participants learned about the collaboration between Cheyney University and Herban Farms, LLC, met the always-hungry tilapia and admired the fragrant basil plants. Dr. Hughes boasted, "This project represents a wonderful opportunity for training, education, and natural resource enhancement.  It readily lends itself to elementary and high school programs where individuals can be taught to raise and harvest up to 13 crops of basil grown over the course of the year. About 6,000 basil plants are sold to supermarkets every week by Herban Farms. The fish are a secondary product here - our primary concern is that the commercial basil business is successful."
Hughes further stated, "Food has been grown this way since 500 BC and in China these methods are still commonly used for farming.  The plants are grown in natural light- no electric lighting is used - we depend on Mother Nature for that - and fish waste products provide the nutrition for the plants. The pools where the fish and plants are kept are not flushed between crops.  We have very valuable water here and take care to move it from pool to pool when it  becomes necessary to drain one of the tanks. Any water that leaves the facility is the result of the fish splashing or evaporation."
An afternoon of brainstorming transpired in Carnegie Hall, where participants considered the possibilities that might await.  Green jobs, economic models, merging a private company with a public university, water education models, watershed region models, brownfield remediation, refitting unused greenhouses in urban neighborhoods. All had potential. 
According to Almonte, "This could be the start of a beautiful relationship. We're always willing to collaborate and  Cheyney offers a phenomenal opportunity and great staff to work with."