Fish farming in Fairfield Court?
Nonprofit founder floats idea to improve lives of East End residents
Jeremy Lazarus | 10/6/2017, 7:38 a.m.
Could fish farming be a way up for residents of public housing?
Eric Samuelson believes it is a winning idea. And he’s hoping to find government officials who are willing to test it.
“I get paid by private business to solve problems,” said Mr. Samuelson, a veteran management consultant. “I want to use my abilities to help solve the problems facing residents in public housing. And I think fish farming is one way to go.”
Through the nonprofit Family Restoration Network he co-founded, he is courting state and city officials for support and grants for his big idea: To create a pilot tilapia fish farm and greenhouse in the heart of Fairfield Court in the East End as a first step toward improving lives and strengthening families.
The 66-year-old Ashland resident proposes to put the 1,000-square-foot project in a portion of the field behind Fairfield Court Elementary School that stretches to the Armstrong High School stadium.
For him, the benefits are easy to tick off.
“We would be creating fresh food, providing marketable skills for residents, bringing a creative science program to benefit students, while offering hope and inspiration for this community,” Mr. Samuelson said.
The venture, he said, would be a training ground for a host of jobs, ranging from irrigation technician and greenhouse worker to pool technician, plumber’s assistant and construction laborer.
Cost: About $50,000 to create the 45-foot-by-25-foot greenhouse-fish farm that could produce 300 to 400 pounds of fish a month, he said. The fish could be provided cheaply to residents or sold wholesale to area grocery stores, he said. At least $30,000 and possibly more would be needed for operating costs, he added.
Essentially, the fish farm would consist of a series of tanks where the fish would start as fingerlings, or babies, and move into other tanks as they grow and are harvested at about 1.5 pounds.
The fish waste would be broken down by microbes and worms and the water would be recycled, irrigating lettuce planted in the greenhouse and returned as filtered water to the fish.
A typical greenhouse structure would enclose the area to allow for year-round operation, Mr. Samuelson said.
If it proves as successful in changing lives and creating fresh food as Mr. Samuelson expects, larger aquaponic projects could be developed that could be financially self-sustaining, he said.
Similar projects are in operation elsewhere, with extensive research backing the idea, he said.
In this area, Virginia State University’s Extension Service has done significant work on fish farming. And last year, Randolph-Macon College biology students created a small version of the fish farm-greenhouse to determine for the Family Restoration Network the best combination of fish and plants for the venture.
So far, Mr. Samuelson’s vision remains just a drawing board exercise; his nonprofit lacks the money to proceed.
He has taken the idea to regional jail and state prison officials as a training program for inmates, but has only received minimal interest.
While the city school system and the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority, which operates Fairfield Court, have expressed interest, no funding has been advanced.