SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Upstate New York seems like an unlikely place to grow tropical fish. But at one central New York college, students and staff are growing the sought-after tilapia, even in the dead of winter.
Plus, developers are planning a $200 million agriculture technology park near Syracuse that will feature growing tanks for fish, along with organic vegetable production, powered by renewable-energy sources.
Morrisville State College in Madison County recently harvested its first crop of tilapia, growing inside a special greenhouse at the campus.
Tilapia, a warm-water fish native to Asia and the Middle East, are a mild white fish that are becoming popular on restaurant menus. They also grow well in greenhouse environments.
Along with raising fish, which require warm, 80-degree waters, staff at Morrisville have been using the excess heat to grow hydroponic lettuce, fertilized by fish waste.
During the cold winter months, the college uses a boiler system which is in part fueled by waste oils from the campus dining halls, Ballard said. Students at the college run a bio-diesel production facility, which is capable of producing 150 gallons of fuel a week, he said.
As well, electricity is supplemented through a wood gasification system where wood chips and other scraps are used to generate electricity, Ballard said.
“We are trying to offset our energy demands using renewable fuels,” he said.
Since the project began in 2009, students and staff have been making adjustments to the system so that both the hydroponic and fish growing operations are compatible, Ballard said.
While it seems somewhat odd to combine both fish and lettuce under the same roof, both food sources are compatible and sustainable, Ballard said.
“One of the rationales for combining them is using fish waste as the primary nutrient source for the plants,” he said.
So far, the greenhouse has grown leafy greens such as oak leaf and romaine lettuces and micro-greens, along with herbs such as basil and thyme, said Eric Bremiller, greenhouse manager.
Morrisville has partnered with the company that runs its campus dining halls to sell the vegetables and fish, Ballard said.
As well, students at the college are gaining marketing experience by selling food to local restaurants, he said.
“We are an agriculture and technology school, so for us, it is a good tie in on the academic side, along with demonstrating to the industry,” Ballard said.
Operations such as the one at Morrisville are becoming more popular in the industry as investors are willing to put money behind sustainable agriculture productions Bremiller said.
“There are commercial projects coming on every year,” he said. “Investors are paying attention.”
In Syracuse, one real estate developer is banking on investors backing sustainable agriculture projects.
Mike Kalet, a Syracuse real estate developer, has proposed a $200 million agriculture industrial park on a sizable farm near Syracuse. If plans develop, the 1,000-acre Boston Road Farm, with rail access and proximity to the New York State Thruway, will become the Central New York Agri-Business Park, a farm production facility that is powered through renewable energy, and sending fish and produce to major markets, Kalet said.
The site’s location, with rail access and a major highway, along with its proximity to cities like New York, Washington and Boston make it ideal, he said.
Kalet has partnered with a development group — Energime Integrated Sustainable Technology Platform — to design the logistics of the project, including design the buildings to run on renewable energy, while growing fruits and vegetables.
“This will be a very smart building,” he said. “We will grow 60 million tons of combined fruits, vegetables and fish on an annual basis in our new generation farm.”
The centerpiece of the park will be a 500,000-square foot production facility with two levels of growing space. Production will be supported by energy from biofuels, solar and organic waste.
Currently Kalet and EISTP are seeking investors in the project, and they hope to break ground in the next three years.
“It is the ultimate in sustainability and the ultimate in system design,” he said.