Fresh foods and produce in a local West Philadelphia inner-city community? That’s the vision for an urban food bio lab located 203 S. 60th Street in West Philadelphia.
“The urban food lab is a joint venture between us and the Partnership CDC,” said Michael Brown of Thunder ridge Bio-systems, a research firm that deals with eco-systems.
“The executive director of Partnership CDC, Steven Williams, had a vision for 60th Street and reconstruction of the corridor and he thought that the concept of a nutritional farm, with our technology, could be the anchor for the entire reconstruction,” Brown said.
He said after working out the details and the plan, they were able to bring the facility to 60th Street.
Inside the facility on 60th street is a 4,500 gallon tank, which holds 700-900 Tilapia in the basement. Upstairs are the plants, which will be marketed to the surrounding community.
“It’s an entire eco-system and it happens naturally,” Brown said. The entire process is without soil and the plants are grown through a water-based process.
“This is basically what people come to see. They see the plants growing on the first floor and they see the fish swimming in the business and, at the end of the day, it is done without pesticides. We don’t use any chemicals at all,” he said.
Everything is controlled on the premises and a quality control system ensures the products are pathogen free.
The food lab didn’t come into being without trial and error. The lab began at the Partnership CDC office on 40th street and several attempts failed initially.
The response from the community has been favorable, according to Brown.
“The fact of the matter is that most of the people are pretty much uneducated about healthy foods. One lady told us that she had to go almost two miles to get fresh vegetables so she’s extremely happy.”
Brown said the Partnership CDC has a number of programs available to the community from housing development to nutritional education.
The CDC’s executive director, Steven Williams, said the food lab was the second phase of an aquaponic program, which they wanted to bring to the residents of West Philadelphia.
“Aquaponics provides two things: A way to provide healthy food and also allow you to bring green-collar jobs into the community from high school level education all the way up to a doctorates, if the lab is developed enough,” Williams said.
Williams said bringing jobs to West Philadelphia is the primary objective of the Partnership CDC.
Asked how difficult it was to establish a such a high-tech lab on 60th street, Williams said it wasn’t difficult at all.
“We had the information, we knew what we could do and we knew how to do it,” he said.
He acknowledged the process began in a greenhouse located on 40th street and there was some trial and error but overall it was a successful program.
“We were ready to expand and take it to the next level and to make sure that everything that we learned on a small scale could be built up. At this point we are looking to larger things to expand it even more,” Williams said.