RINGSTED - Pretty much a full house heard a presentation by two representatives of Aquapons, a Wisconsin-based company that manufactures sustainable aquaculture and hydroponic gardens, at the Ringsted Community Center Wednesday night.
The process uses nutrients from fish to fertilize produce in a closed system that uses less water and fertilizer.
Alan Madden, spokesperson for the Save the Ringsted School committee, introduced Barbara Behlke, financial consultant, and David Capel, who is proposing to build an Aquapons facility, with estimates ranging around $150,000.
David Capel and Barbara Behlke, representing Aquapons, and Alan Madden, speaking for the Save the Ringsted School committee, told a large group Wednesday night at the Ringsted Community Center about the Aquapons process.
EDN photo by Michael Tidemann
Armstrong-Ringsted School District closed Ringsted Elementary at the end of June and has been hearing proposals from responsible parties interested in taking over the school. The other option is demolition.
This past summer, the Save the Ringsted School committee formed for the purpose of finding a purpose for the school. Capel and Behlke came at the committee's invitation, and after touring the school Wednesday, made their presentation Wednesday night.
Calling Aquapons "a very viable prospect," Madden, who also runs a business in Ringsted, said Aquapons would be ag-related and produce revenue that would allow the committee to look for other uses for the building, such as assisted living and retail space.
Capel said the Aquapons operation would take up possibly the old bus barn plus one to three rooms of the school.
Citing a nationwide movement toward local food production, Behlke said she and Capel want to put Aquapons in cities as well as rural areas, such as Ringsted. Behlke's resume includes building 42 fishponds in Africa, working as a Conservation Reserve Program soil conservationist and working for an engineering company.
Capel said they have a 72-by-30 unit now in Wisconsin. In the process, fish create ammonia which is converted to plant nutrients. Plants such as lettuce take just six weeks from seed to harvest.
"It's local. It's fresh. It's secure," Capel said, noting that tilapia, the fish produced in the process, like a temperature of 72-73 degrees, about the same as for plants.
The product is marketed to high schools, hospitals and a nursing home plus the general public. Capel said he tries to deliver within a 25-mile radius of the facility.
Behlke outlined the other purposes for the building outlined by the Save the Ringsted School committee, including elderly housing, a recreation area, arts and crafts area and cafe. "A cooperative would be a better approach," Behlke suggested.
When asked about cost, Behlke footed a figure of $150,000 to $200,000.
"That's a fairly low investment for the kind of turnover we're looking at," said Madden. "We have identified this as something that offers a very real prospect for the use of the building."
When asked who would pay taxes on the building if the venture failed, Madden said it would be a community-based business in which Aquapons would not be the owner but rather provide the expertise for the operation.
Behlke said up to 10 jobs could be created by the operation with it taking three months to build the structure and another month to get produce.
When asked about a property tax break from the county, Madden, a member of the county board of supervisors, said the board had granted a tax break for the new Halfa feed mill and the Aquapons operation could fall under the same guidelines.