published Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Tilapia to be raised at pioneering Rossville facility

  • photo
    Rossville resident John Coffman was so inspired by what he saw at Inner-City Aquaponics that he's been volunteering there full-time for six weeks.
    Photo by Tim Omarzu.
    enlarge photo

IF YOU GO

What: Open house at Inner-City Aquaponics

When: 2 p.m. today

Where: Athletic field behind the former Rossville Middle School at 1 Bulldog Drive.

ROSSVILLE — John Coffman is so impressed with Inner-City Aquaponics that he’s been volunteering full-time for the past six weeks at the fish farm and garden that’s taking shape behind the vacant Rossville Middle School.

“There’s nothing this side of LaFayette for kids to get involved with that’s positive. When I saw this popping up ... I was more than happy to jump on board,” said Coffman, a 14-year Rossville resident.

Coffman was working hard to get the fish farm ready for an open house at 2 p.m. today that is expected to draw Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell and people from Kenya, the Congo and Haiti — all countries that are experiencing turmoil.

“The purpose of this project is to build portable farms that can be drop-shipped to relief areas,” said Ryan Cox, the owner of Inner-City Hydroponics.

The portable farm on the site consists of plastic fish tanks in which, Cox said, 400 tilapia can be raised to 18 ounces in nine months. The fish tank drains into a rock filter bed that can produce 20 pounds of the herb basil in a month, Cox said, as the plant’s roots reach down into the fish-manure rich water. From there, the water drains into a “floating raft bed.” Plants stuck through holes in its floating foam panels grow hydroponically.

Cox envisions numerous ventures at the site.

“We have a lot of grandiose plans that are easy to achieve,” he said.

Cox hopes to sell fish and produce to area restaurants. He’d also like to help establish a farmers market in Rossville as a venue to sell produce.

He envisions people buying produce on site, including at a reduced price if they’re willing to pick it themselves. Dug into the dirt at one end of the playing field is a garden with a variety of vegetables including corn, eggplant, cucumbers, onions, watermelons, sweat peas and squash.

Cox doesn’t plan to sell the portable fish farms. He hopes to produce them free of charge for delivery to relief areas.

Walker County is letting Cox use the land for a nominal fee under a lease agreement, said Walker County Economic Development Director Larry Brooks.

“He came to us and said, ‘I’d like to do this,’” Brooks said. “It just made sense to have it there.”

Cox, who’s from Ohio, already has a successful business that does fleet vehicle maintenance, Brooks said.

“Right now, he’s trying to get his legs underneath him,” Brooks said of Inner-City Aquaponics, adding, “There’s going to be some full-time jobs that are tied to this.”

Cox said he and business partner Trevor Morgan put up the funds for the project.

Cox says the operation will start producing food in about 45 days and eventually will provide 10 full-time summer jobs. Employees could include students at Ridgeland High School’s new aquaponics class, he said.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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