Greenhouses in line for new life as ag and training center

An artist’s rendering of the proposed Westfield Innovative Ag and Training Center.

Two idle greenhouses may soon be growing both agricultural skills and food.

The two Pulaski Township facilities sit on a 19-acre parcel between Edgewood and Westfield, a long-term residential treatment facility and personal care home, respectively. The Human Services Center has applied to the USDA-Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production grant to re-develop them as the Westfield Innovative Ag and Training Center.

In a news release, the Human Services Center noted that although the greenhouses have sat empty for years, they have potential to be full of clients, students and community members with the ability to provide healthy food options to needy families in New Castle and Lawrence County, as well as learning opportunities to assist local high schools and colleges that seek to increase knowledge of agricultural disciplines, not only in regular agricultural growing but aquaponics, aeroponics and hydroponics as well.

The Human Services Center plans to partner with Lawrence County Community Action Partnership and the Penn State Extension Master Gardner program to assist with basic improvements, supplies needed and technical assistance to get the greenhouses up and running again. Kristin Green and Dale Chappell of LCCAP have provided support and initial assessment of the condition of the greenhouses

The center envisions the greenhouse as a place where clients, students and community members — especially those with disabilities — can learn about growing food in a climate-controlled environment. Additionally, they will develop life skills, learn how food plays a role in economic development, and engage the broader community through greenhouse and sustainable agriculture activities.

Westfield Innovative Ag and Training Center will provide an innovative Controlled Environment Agriculture Training Center for years to come, the Human Services Center said, adding that it plans to include multiple levels of Controlled Environment Agriculture agriculture to such as aeroponics, Dutch bucket system, aquaponics, commercial hydroponics, vertical hydroponics, and a farmbot to provide an inclusive learning atmosphere. Having a variety of these opportunities will allow for more students to find their niche in the world of agriculture, whether it be for data collection, scientific research, programming and coding, traditional agriculture, or business, everyone will have input.

To support the hands-on elements of the Controlled Environment Agriculture Training Program, the current facilities will host a complement of functional demonstration models that reflect the innovative technology implemented in commercial indoor and greenhouse agriculture. The retrofit of the four-season greenhouse and high tunnel hoop house will allow prospective horticulture trainees to be introduced to and become competent in the skills needed to be employed in the Controlled Environment Agriculture industry.

The training program will focus on the daily skills required to successfully be employed in the Controlled Environment Agriculture industry. From seed propagation to food safety / transportation, students will explore basic agriculture practices as well as the advanced concepts associated with hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics.

Meeting the regional demand for fresh and local produce, the training program  will focus on the economically sustainable technological advancements being introduced into the modern food supply chain. The installation will be a living laboratory, not only offering vocational employment training, but also supplying fresh nutritional food to the community. From fresh leafy greens to tomatoes, peppers, and green beans, the nature of Controlled Environment Agriculture allows for year-long production and delivery.

 Grant announcements will be made in September.

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