FreshMinistries became involved in the Virgin Islands after Lee was invited to speak at the Small Business Development Center’s 2013 Summit in St. Croix about the success of the Beaver Street Enterprise Center (BSEC), FreshMinistries’ core-city business incubator in Jacksonville. He and Andy Harold, a former Beaver Street client who now runs a multi-million dollar company, were both keynote speakers at that event, and discussion led to how FreshMinistries might help spur economic development in the Virgin Islands.
“In the Virgin Islands, it made sense to focus our entrepreneurial energy on agribusiness,” Lee said. “Because of its unique geography, the V.I. imports nearly all its food supply, and fresh, affordable food is in high demand. We saw a chance to apply lessons we’d learned through our programs in Jacksonville to create training and business opportunities elsewhere, which is always a priority for us as we choose new projects.”
On land leased from the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture on the island of St. Croix, FreshMinistries will construct the new center to house its FEED program (Fueling Entrepreneurship and Economic Development) to provide hands-on training and classroom sessions to individuals interested in owning, managing or working within the innovative field of aquaponics.
The system blends aquaculture (fish) and hydroponic (produce) organic farming techniques into a climate-resistant closed-loop growth system powered by renewable technology. This soil-less, commercial-scale growth system uses 90-98 percent less water and yields greater harvest per square foot than soil-based farming. No hormones, pesticides or herbicides are used. Growth rates for seafood and produce are much greater than in traditional farming; a two-pound tilapia can be grown in 180 days and a full head of lettuce in six weeks.
FreshMinistries’ project will consist of four 6,000-square-foot and seven 3,000-square-foot greenhouses, an enclosed processing center with refrigeration units, storage, sinks and work tables, office and classroom space, and acreage where program graduates and co-operative partners can manage their own farming systems.
FreshMinistries is also working on plans to launch aquaponics projects in the near future in core-city Jacksonville, Atlanta and the Episcopal Diocese of Navajoland.