New Aquaponics Facility in the Northern Neck

On average, beef cattle consume six pounds of feed to produce one pound of beef. This 6:1 Feed Conversion Ratio (FCR) is well above the FCR for chicken, at about 2:1. Fish like tilapia can do better, according to Tammy Cole, Director of Operations at Healthy Harvest Fresh, in Warsaw.

That advantage, and the fact that tilapia grow quickly, reaching maturity in only about sixty days, is why Healthy Harvest Fresh opted to grow tilapia at its aquaponics operation in the Northern Neck.

Tammy Cole explains aquaponics
Tammy Cole explains aquaponics

Healthy Harvest Fresh is a subsidiary of Healthy Harvest Food Bank, located at Richmond County’s Commerce Park. “It is a state-of-the-art aquaponics production facility,” Cole said, “designed as an educational space.”

Members of the NNPDC visited the new facility to learn about how Healthy Harvest Fresh expects to eventually produce tens of thousands of pounds of vegetables and thousands of pounds of fish a year.

Aquaponics, as it applies to the Healthy Harvest Fresh facility in Warsaw, is a cooperation between the fish—growing in tanks—the bacteria that process what the fish excrete, and the plants that utilize the resulting nutrients to grow.


The system, designed by Nelson & Pade Aquaponics, leaves ample room around its tanks on purpose, Cole said, to allow for groups of visitors to tour the facility and learn about the process.

“We will teach students how to do this,” she added. “And another thing we will teach is how to eat healthy.”

Education is one of the goals. Another one is to provide fresh food to clients of the food bank as well as to various pantries in the region, schools, farmers’ markets, and institutions.

“What we send out changes daily,” said Mark Kleinschmidt, President and CEO of Healthy Harvest Food Bank and Healthy Harvest Fresh. “Our two coolers are full of lettuce right now, and we are at 61% percent fresh produce of what we distribute to the community.” 

That ratio is likely to be maintained or even increased once the new aquaponics facility is at full production capacity.

“We are in 21 public schools and one private school,” Kleinschmidt said. “In the close to fourteen years that the food bank has been in operation, we have been responsible for significantly lowering food insecurity in the region. We have 34 partner agencies across six counties, serve over ten thousand people monthly, and have distributed more than a million and a half meals. Every day, you can help somebody.”

Both Healthy Harvest facilities have had an economic development impact in the region. Paul Sciacchitano, Chairman of the Healthy Harvest Board, indicated that, so far, an investment of $6.8 million—from grants and contributions—has created six full-time and two part-time jobs. 

“Ours is not work, not a job,” added Cindy Balderson, VP and Development Director of Healthy Harvest Food Bank and Healthy Harvest Fresh. “It’s a way of life.”

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