Aquaponics center set to launch in Virginia

Published 5:27 pm Saturday, August 5, 2023

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A new aquaponics facility will fuse philanthropic spirit with innovation when it opens its doors this fall.

The Healthy Harvest Fresh educational center and aquaponics production facility is projected to open in September. It will be adjacent to Healthy Harvest Food Bank, which serves six counties in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Upper Middle Peninsula.

The facility will house a 2,000-square-foot state-of-the-art classroom and an 11,700-square-foot aquaponics production space to grow premium-quality vegetables and fish and educate visitors on the importance of fresh food and sustainable agriculture.

With aquaponics at the forefront of the operation, the facility will be “one-of-a-kind” in Virginia, said Tammy Cole, Healthy Harvest Fresh director of operations.

“It’s a phenomenal concept,” Cole remarked. “There are some smaller aquaponics facilities, a lot of aquaculture and hydroponics, but there’s not very much aquaponics in Virginia.”

Aquaponics combines fish culture and hydroponic plant production in a symbiotic recirculating system. The plants harvest the nutrients in the water generated by the fish, following a multi-step filtration process.

“We’re an education center first and foremost,” Cole said. With a robust team of superintendents, Virginia Cooperative Extension agents and teachers, Healthy Harvest will provide educators with “many opportunities to expand on academic principles using aquaponics as the medium.”

Healthy Harvest Fresh’s team of experts will offer school systems the opportunity to visit the facility for experiential learning, like testing the water, exploring plant and fish anatomy, and studying physiology or bacteriology.

“Agricultural literacy is more than understanding where your food comes from — it’s being able to make wise consumer choices, healthy decisions, and potentially even providing for yourself and your family,” Cole said.

The program aims to educate and empower individuals of all ages while continuously producing fresh, locally grown food. It will supply up to 140,000 pounds of protein and produce to the food bank and local schools year-round. Excess produce will be offered to other food banks across the state in conjunction with Healthy Harvest’s signature agricultural program.

One of the localities that will be served by Healthy Harvest is Essex County, and that county’s Farm Bureau president, Faye Hundley, said the new facility is “a godsend to the local community.

“I’m excited to see aquaponics production happening here in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula,” she added. “Healthy Harvest Fresh is implementing innovative farming techniques and providing sustainable, healthy food options year-round to those in need.”

That’s important because sourcing fresh, healthy products during the off-season is challenging for food banks, Cole noted.

“We’re really excited about being able to provide that year-round and expand on locally sourced foods in the school food service system,” she added.

“We hope to be a model for similar organizations to adopt and implement in different parts of the state, our eastern region or nationally,” she said.

For updates on the facility’s grand opening, visit or the Healthy Harvest Food Bank Facebook page or its Twitter or Instagram accounts.