Pulaski Grow rising to feed community and educate

AFP Correspondent

DRAPER, Va. (Jan. 27, 2015) — Back from San Diego as one of four competitors in a new America Farm Bureau Federation competition, the Rural Entrepreneurship Challenge, Lee Spiegel’s enthusiasm for her Pulaski Grow project is starting to take shape.
The challenge has grown out of the efforts of AFBF and the Georgetown University’s McDonough School of business. It gives individuals a chance to show others some of the ideas and business innovations being developed in rural areas of the United States, AFBF said in a news release.
Pulaski Grow was selected from more than 200 applicants to compete at the national AFBF convention.
Each of the four finalists received $15,000 for their businesses.
While she did not come home with the first prize, she came home with new ideas, the knowledge that others have and are facing some of the same start-up issues she is, and a belief that her entrepreneurship endeavor is going to be successful.
Based on the campus of a former elementary school, Pulaski Grow uses aquaponics, to produce both fish and edible plants in a closed system. Once complete, the project is expected to grow vegetables on about 3,000 plants in a greenhouse and feed the plants with water and nutrients from tilapia growing in several 500-gallon tanks.
Designed as an educational endeavor, Spiegel hopes to get non-profit designation. Along with the greenhouse construction she is also setting up a teaching schedule to launch this year.
According to Spiegel, Pulaski Grow will offer a comprehensive training program for youths ages 14 to 18 in aquaponics.
“By combining this innovative form of farming with training, we can teach youth ages 14-18 valuable up-to-date farming techniques as well as important job skills. The program gives participants training that will set them apart from other teens looking to enter the job market,” Siegel said. “Through our program, trainees have the opportunity to learn hands-on skills such as marketing, entrepreneurship, management, and product development while also learning how to write a resume, fill out applications, and brush up on their interview skills,” it states.
Spiegel said she is not sure when her business will be up and running because she has to get a permit from the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to raise the tilapia, a non-native fish.
To get the permit she must have plants growing in the greenhouse now under construction as well as having a fish tank installed and ready for operation. The project is located on part of the campus of a former school owned by Pulaski County. Much of the work is being done by volunteers.
On Jan. 17, Speigel and a volunteer family John and Marla Hurley with their sons, Noah, Tyler and Ryan, from Troutville, Va., in Washington County installed the first overhead supports for the greenhouse.