I’ve been pretty vocal on this blog about different visions of the green economy. As I see it, the transformation from gray to green is an opportunity for political economic shift towards a more democratic and decentralized state of affairs defined by cooperation and environmental justice advocacy. But it’s by no means always clear cut.
So I present to you the (still hypothetical) Lorain County aquaculture complex:
An environmental consultant for the owners of the former Ford Motor Co. Lorain Assembly Plant will explore the possibility of a new aquaponic farm at the site, which sits at the intersection of Baumhart Road and US 6.
Officials said yesterday the concept is in early stages and installation will depend on future financing.
“It’s very much in the planning stages,” Wayne Dorband, of Loveland, Colo., said. “There’s no commitments from anybody from a financial aspect at this point.
“There’s at least a potential that the site could have that end use,” he added. “Certainly this is a business we will be in. Now we have to see if Lorain is the right location and if we can get financing.”
Last week, Dorband and Bevan Suits, of Decatur, Ga., announced their intention to form Worldwide Aquaculture LLC to promote the aquaponic technology. Dorband has a doctorate in fisheries management and Suits is the author of “The Aquaponics Guidebook,” an online guide to the indoor fisheries and gardens.
The Ford plant owners, IRG Lorain LLC, declined to comment on the possible fish farm there because the project is in its early stages.
However, the project has created buzz online when at least one green news Web site, www.treehugger.com, published a story and bird’s-eye view diagram of the Lorain plan. The proposed layout would have 86,000 square feet of planting beds and 303,743 gallons of water for fish.
The Lorain project could involve investment up to $5 million and create up to 55 jobs when operating, Dorband said. The concept involves concurrent, balanced growth of plants and fish, according to the Worldwide Aquaculture plans.
The fish could be tilapia, which Suits described as the preferred aquaculture species worldwide. The fish grow from fingerlings to a pound in about eight months and a 500-gallon tank can produce 250 pounds of live fish.
Fish in tanks produce waste, which is ammonia that is pumped out to become nitrates that feed plants.
The plants, probably greens that mature quickly, grow in gravel beds that filter the water, which is then pumped back into the fish tanks.
“The system is completely recirculating,” Dorband said. “There’s no discharge for any potential pollution for any outside source.”
Americans generally eat food grown far away — an average of 1,500 miles away, Dorband said. However, the aquaponic proponents believe food production will become more local over time as transportation costs continue to rise, Dorband said.
“We believe that regional food production will become the norm long-term,” he said.
The IRG site has highway access, lots of space and plenty of water, while Lorain is located near Cleveland and the northern Ohio market, Dorband said. His son is working on a similar shrimp farm near Beaufort, S.C., which would be close to the Charlotte, N.C., and Savannah, Ga., markets, Dorband said. Additional details could become available in the next few months, Dorband said.
“The biggest constraint in any of our projects right now is financing,” he said.
What do you think? If there are any local food advocates or people from the labor community reading (unlikely, but you never know) I’d love to hear thoughts. My only concern is a wary one, in that I wish there could be something that would be a little more labor-intensive. That plant used to support a lot of workers (I wish I knew where to go for a count), and 55 jobs, while great, is not everything the doctor ordered for my erstwhile Obie-home. It’s probably too early to say, but I was intrigued and warily amped about it, and I’d like to hear other reactions.
At the end of the day, I’m so interested to see how this turns out because it’s just another example of the experiment we’re engaging in out here in the frontiers of the green economy in the Midwest. That Ford plant is a pretty solid metaphor for the predicament of much of this area. It stands a testament to the once-prosperity, prosperity we know won’t come back exactly the same way. Green offers an opportunity, but it depends on how we do it. There are huge stakes involved in how the hell we transition the Midwest from what it was to what it will be. We’re laying down that pipe and writing that script right now. It’s interesting and terrifying, and in no small part why I stick around here, why I’m so excited and lucky to be here.