Hydroponic farm in Dunbar grows produce for food deserts in WV

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DUNBAR, WV (WOWK) — The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a gardening boom across the country.

One farm is using water instead of dirt to grow fresh produce for west Dunbar residents — who live in what the U.S. Department of Agriculture calls a “food desert”.

Joey Aloi, farm hub marketing specialist at Paradise Farms was preparing freshly picked kale Tuesday.

Because the kale is hydroponic kale, meaning it didn’t grow in the soil, it didn’t have any dirt but Aloi was still checking for bugs and their traces with a quick rinse before bagging them.

Most of the leafy greens at Paradise Farms are grown in plastic corridors with nutrients added to the water.

“You can use hydroponics anywhere if you don’t trust the soil,” said Aloi.

“You can use hydroponics anywhere if you don’t trust the soil”

Joey Aloi, Paradise Farms

Currently, the farm has tomatoes, peppers, leafy greens, and other hydroponic veggies in what was once a trailer park.

“We don’t really know what everybody did when they lived here, but we can be pretty sure a little bit of oil and diesel spilled out at least,” said Aloi.

In fact, Aloi says West Virginia has a lot of areas with bad soil.

This kind of farming has caught on in other parts of the world and is especially good for urban farming, yielding more produce per square foot.

Although Paradise Farms initially started as a job training and reform program for inmates through the Kanawha Institute for Social Research and Action, they haven’t been able to train at the farm since the pandemic hit.

Wholesale sales to local restaurants also dried up seemingly overnight.

But Aloi says they’ve made up for that with direct sales, helping locals who don’t have quick access to grocery stores or who wanted to avoid the grocery store rush when the pandemic first began.

“Whole counties in West Virginia have lost grocers, and that’s just a thing that happens in a place like West Virginia, where your population is a little older than average and declining,” he said.

“Whole counties in West Virginia have lost grocers, and that’s just a thing that happens in a place like West Virginia, where your population is a little older than average and declining”

Joey Aloi, Paradise Farms

Paradise Farms will be having their next produce pop up event in Nitro on Friday, September 11th at the Peoples FCU parking lot.

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