Ravenswood church intends to nourish bellies, souls with greenhouse

By By Jeff Baughan
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

RAVENSWOOD — LifeSpring Community Church-Jackson doesn’t look like a church as you drive by. There are churches along the main street in Ravenswood. None look like LifeSpring.

The reason LifeSpring doesn’t look like a church is simple — it was a farm store with a greenhouse behind it before it became a house of worship.

LifeSpring is taking the greenhouse and combining aquaculture and hydroponics — that’s why it’s known as aquaponics — to raise fish and vegetables. The harvested food will be distributed to the marginalized people in Jackson County, according to Lisa Simmons of LifeSpring, who initially researched the project more than two years ago.

“It is a unique ministry to feed people, to reach out to them,” Simmons said. “It’s going to start small, and we have the room to start expanding once we get settled. We should be able to make the first distribution six-seven months after we finish construction.”

JD Scritchfield of LifeSpring, who is assisting Simmons with the project and overseeing the construction portion, said the science is pretty simple.

“We’re taking a 250-gallon tank with blue tilapia as the base,” he said. “We have a fish aerator in the tank. The water from the tank, along with most of the solid waste, will flow into the 55 gallon settling tank. It is there that bacteria naturally breaks down the fish waste into nitrates. Then the nitrate-rich water flows into the grow beds, which are 4-foot by 8-foot, to feed the plants.

“Once in the growth beds, there the constantly floating roots will catch the water and cleanse it as it removes the nitrates,” he continued. “Once the water has been cleansed, it will make its way back to the tank by the way of a pump. When it gets back to the tank, it’s clean water, as the roots have filtered out all the waste.”

Scritchfield said the seedlings start to take root in rockwool, which is a fibrous organic material, and are transferred to the growth beds where the seedlings grow through holes in the Styrofoam floats. The floats keep the roots in the water and the tops of the plants above the water line, he said.

The fingerling blue tilapia will arrive from a Florida hatchery and cost approximately $1.80 apiece for the shipment of 100, according to Scritchfield.

“They are very tolerant of dirty water and heat and they grow very fast,” Scritchfield said. “By the time the fish are harvested, they will be approximately a pound to a pound and a half and 12 to 14 inches long.”

The tank itself is nothing more than a plastic container, otherwise known as “IBC (intermediate bulk container) and we have been able to secure a number of containers which we will use for tanks later, from a local trucking company,” said Scritchfield. “A lot of things we have needed, God has provided for us to get for free or next to nothing in cost.”

Simmons said several months ago, the West Virginia University Extension and West Virginia State University had a free workshop at Buffalo High School on the subject.

“We found through the workshop we could make this go,” said Simmons. “We’ve been recycling whatever materials we could as we have looked to be good stewards with the funds we have.

“It’s been one of our goals since the inception of the church was to help people not as fortunate in Ravenswood and the surrounding area,” Simmons continued. “We’ve been looking for something to do to accomplish that and we think this is it.”

The church is in partnership with a Hispanic church, Comunidad Nueva Esperanza, which shares the same building with LifeSpring, according to Simmons. Both churches are members of the West Virginia Baptist Convention, which is part of the American Baptist Churches USA.

The first round of the vegetables will be green and leafy, according to Simmons.

“These growth tanks will be easier at first,” Scritchfield said. “Then we will do modified growth tanks to allow for vegetables with deeper growth systems.”

“The only water we’re going to lose from this will be from evaporation,” Scritchfield said. “The tilapia will have the pellets but they will also eat duckweed eventually We can grow it as well and eventually cut down on our costs.”

The 36-foot by 40-foot greenhouse can contain four rows of growth beds with two beds per row.

“We’re going to get comfortable with one row and see what happens from there,” Scritchfield said.

Simmons said information is plentiful online.

“We’re looking to give the product away to those who are in need,” Simmons said. “We want to help people, and at the same time, teach them better eating habits.”

“We’re not looking for anything in return,” said Scritchfield. “We’re not asking for anything. The church’s job is to take care of people. It’s the mission of the church and the church is mission-minded. But with this ministry, there’s a lot we can do which will have a lasting impact.”

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