Saturday, June 13, 2015

Where Will The Money Come From?

I must admit when I wrote Imagine a week or so ago the post reads like pie in the sky dreams too big to come true. Our vision isn't small either. After all, a project like I'm talking about won't be cheap.

I've since learned that loans up to $300,000 are available under the USDA Farm Services Agency. We don't even have to own the land as many farms are on leased property. I'm hoping we can get a dirt cheap lease from Guilford County.

But $300,000 won't build classrooms and offices.

So I've made arrangements with Bessemer United Methodist Church on Bessemer Avenue to rent temporary classrooms and office space at prices we can afford. The church is 4 minutes away from our chosen site on foot, 40 seconds by car.

And $300,000 will build 1 big greenhouse with an aquaponics system inside. Temporary offices and classrooms plus one permanent greenhouse will be enough facilities to get us started. As a matter of fact: NC A&T University plans to build several greenhouses about a half mile away on Lombardy Street for a project they're calling an urban farm and they're only spending $300,000.

To our advantage, the A&T project will require that a new parking lot be built. We already have a parking lot-- it simply needs some work.

Of course there are going to be other expences-- a lot of them.

Qualified professors don't work for free. Neither will the rest of the employees. Volunteers will help but there will still be payroll to meet.

Thankfully USDA grants are available. There might also be grants from NC State University and NC A&T University as we hope to have both schools involved. That said, no one has signed on any dotted lines just yet so everything remains speculation.

We'll have to buy seeds, furniture and office equipment. Believe you me, I'm not above taking hand me downs from wherever we can get them.

Corporate sponsors are a possibility. As a matter of fact, Salvage America has already agreed to be a corporate sponsor. As a 501 (3) c we will be able to solicit tax deductible funding from anyone. In case you're wondering, the owner of Salvage America is a former employer of mine. When he found out I was doing this he picked up his phone and called me to ask how he can help.

There's several local suppliers and manufacturers who would stand to make a lot of money if an aquaponics school were built here and an industry was created around it. If they don't find us first I plan to track them down.

As far as getting our non profit status goes, I'm in discussions with existing non profits about doing the project under their supervision. No decision has been made but working with an existing 501 (3) c would speed up the project by about a year allowing us to take donations right away.

Of course, donations from the public will also be acceptable.

Perhaps the best thing about the model we are using is the fact that while we need money to start, we won't always need money. By running an actual aquaponics production facility at the school (the only practical way to teach aquaponics) we'll be able to derive income from sales of produce and fish while taking in tuition from the students we teach.

And in the future when we finally build that visitor center I'm dreaming about we can also take in more profits so that in a few years Bessemer Aquaponics will be funding economic development, small businesses and other non profits all over Greensboro, all over North Carolina, and beyond.

Our next meeting is July 16. Why not come out and talk about how we can get this done?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Imagine... turning off of Bessemer Avenue/Burlington Road in East Greensboro, the Bessemer Community, where the old rock walls and stately white oak trees from the 1940s or before still decorate the front of what we now call, Bessemer Aquaponics-- the first fully accredited Aquaponics school in the nation-- now stands.

You park in the parking lot taking a minute to read a historical marker there telling you the history of the site, once a county old folks home then the recreation facility for the soldiers stationed at the Overseas Replacement Depot. You learn it later became the first racially integrated hospital in North Carolina when the North Carolina Convalescent Hospital was built there during the Polio Epidemic of the late 1940s and 1950s. And later, again an old folks home until being torn down over 40 years before and abandoned for over 4 decades while grass and trees covered everything there including the asphalt parking lot.

You read how it was once home to the 7th and 8th graders from Bessemer High School back in the 1960s when the Bessemer Community was so strong the school system was unable to keep up and how during those very same years part of the building was used for a county jail where a young man named Jessie Jackson was once held. Yes, that Jessie Jackson.

Outdoor works of art made entirely by local artists adorn the grounds and gardens everywhere you look with both fixed and ever changing pieces on display. This is done at no costs to local artists as a service to the local artists community who were so supportive in spreading the word about this project as many of them are also very interested in sustainability for Greensboro. And rather than spend precious local dollars on buying art from out of town we though it better to display local art in the hopes of helping our local artists sell their works.

The chain link fences surrounding the property are covered in plants. Later you will learn some of those plants are hops used in the making of Greensboro's many local beers and other vertically grown crops to numerous to name.

Walking inside you see the free visitor center where freshwater fish are swimming on display in big tanks and the locals are buying fresh, organic, aquaponic grown produce and fresh fish. You see videos and vivid explanations about what goes on there. You see books and study guides for children and adults. And a free guide to local attractions packed with lots of discount coupons printed by a local printer and published by a local publisher.

A group of 5th graders walk past to their activity bus waiting in the parking lot half way through a field trip that includes a visit to the Siquarium across town-- a distance made much easier to travel because of the recent completion of the new Greensboro Urban Loop, aka I-840. Having learned about hundreds of different freshwater fish and Aquaponics they make their way to gaze at the rarely seen saltwater varieties in the aquarium there.

You see the rows of Greenhouses fulled with fish and plants. As you walk closer each one has a brass plaque denoting the year it was built and who helped to pay for its construction. You realize this place wasn't built overnight but in a series of stages as time and money permits.

Another group, farmers and businessmen, walk past drinking coffee, discussing the markets and debateing the success of the newest aquaponic farm to open nearby. They discuss the pros and cons of urban farms vs. rual farms and come to the conclusion that it depends on your target market. The praise Aquaponics 3.0 developed first at NC State University but taught first here. How could we have gone from an importer of foods to a major exporter so quickly, you think. Then you're reminded of how Greensboro had long invested in infrastructure and logistics that were just begging for products to haul away. This was the regional solution the politicians has sought for years, right in front of your eyes.

Next door at the Guilford County Agricultural Extension Service, people line up to view the demonstration garden. The Ag Service had to hire full time tour guides but it's not a problem because the cost is covered by a grant from Bessemer Aquaponics that also helps to fund Agricultural Extension county wide.

You know you are in a special place.

Behind the visitor center are the offices, classrooms and rows of greenhouses where fish and plants are raised and farmers, be they lifelong farmers or new to the trade, study to become experts in the most advanced forms of agriculture in the history of the work-- able after a few short weeks in class, to grow food anywhere it's needed.

You overhear people talking about how much better Greensboro and North Carolina's economy has become since Bessemer Aquaponics was founded, with all the new businesses starting up and people working again. How area non profits no longer need to play political games with elected leaders to get the funding they need. People are working day and night exporting Greensboro's fish, fruit, vegetables and the aquaponics equipment built by small and large manufactures located nearby, to places all around the world. And the profits from Bessemer Aquaponics go not into someone's pocket but towards funding other needed programs throughout Greensboro and Guilford County.

You think about the fact that Aquaponics, a 5000 year old technology, grows 6 times the food while using only 2% of the water of conventional agriculture and you ask yourself, "Why did it take us so long?"

If you can imagine our vision then please share this story with everyone you know and attend our next meeting.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Our 4th Meeting: July 16, 7:00 PM

Time for another gathering, this time on Thursday, July 16 at 7:00 PM.

Where: under the shade trees in front of the empty field due west of the Guilford County Agricultural Extension Office 3309 Burlington Rd (Link to Google map: ) Thursday May 21, 7:00 PM.

Bring a chair, something cold to drink (Sorry, no alcohol as this is County property) and interested friends-- lots of interested friends.

I promise there's lots of good news to share with those who are interested.