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.