PSC receives USDA-funded Specialty Crops Grant

USDA Grant

Students (left to right): Alex Pritchard, Hunter Carr, Colton Hughart, Hannah Bobo, and Katie Short recently constructed a hydroponic system in the greenhouse at Potomac State College of West Virginia University with a grant the Agriculture and Forestry Program received from the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.

The Agriculture and Forestry Program at Potomac State College of West Virginia University was recently awarded a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) specialty crops grant through the West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) in the amount of $14,400.

“This grant will allow us to provide a learning model of hydroponic and vegetable production to students so they can add this type of farm-to-school system to their farms,” said Donna Ballard, associate professor of agriculture and greenhouse supervisor.

Students constructed a hydroponic system at the College greenhouse this past fall for the purpose of growing lettuce for the PSC food service. In Fall 2014, they will add high tunnels on the farm to raise winter crops which will once again supply certain foods to the College. Students will construct both systems, schedule and deliver crops to the food service.

“Hydroponic crops are grown in a variety of systems that allow the plants to receive their complete nutrient need from an irrigation solution; however, these systems are designed to work without conventional soil or root medium. Our system will be a nutrient film system in the greenhouse to produce salad greens throughout the school year,” added Ballard.

When asked if there is any loss of flavor by growing vegetables this way, Ballard responded, “There is no research that indicates any difference in flavor of hydroponic produce when compared to traditional commercial crops. By producing crops that are limited in transport time, hydroponic systems allow produce to be similar in quality to garden crops traditionally grown in the summer.”

As for start-up cost, the initial investment is similar to any greenhouse operation. However, by switching from traditional greenhouse crops to edible produce, the markets available to the farmer is expanded.

According to the Web site, the WVDA administers USDA-funded Specialty Crops Grants that promote a wide variety of local food-related projects. Their goal is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers.