Pulaski Grow harvests more than produce, fish
DRAPER, Va. — Pulaski Grow is a unique farm in Southwest Virginia that helps train young people in life skills while fulfilling the dreams of its founder.
Lee Spiegel has combined growing produce and fish in a sustainable farm system that uses innovative techniques to raise food and teach her students about farming and the many skills needed to be successful in agriculture and life.
Spiegel combines growing produce in a high-tunnel greenhouse that feature hydroponic vertical growing towers and floating beds with aquaponics.
The aquaponics provide fertilizer for the plants as waste water is pumped to the plants.
“I knew I wanted to operate a training center for youth,” Spiegel said.
A combination of factors contributed to creating Pulaski Grow. This included the desire to establish her center within a business.
To this desire she added the experiences and knowledge she has gained in always being a gardener with people looking for produce year-round.
Research and learning played a big part in her decision to go this route, she added.
“I knew I’d be doing it the rest of my life,” she said. “I need to be doing something I enjoyed.”
Part of Spiegel’s motivation was seeing so many people become far removed from farming and knowing how food is grown.
She wanted to help people learn where food comes from and provide quality food.
Her farm addresses this by providing food through a Community Supported Agriculture component.
She also finds gardening therapeutic for herself and others. She said the calming effect of growing plants helps young people deal with a variety of issues.
Spiegel said Pulaski Grow gives her students the opportunity to learn and allows her to keep learning.
“I love to learn,” she said.
Students can join Pulaski Grow in several ways: They may come on their own; they can be sent by their parents; or they are sent by the court system.
The classes are held on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and Monday evenings for the mostly 14 to 18 year-olds. They perform farm chores as part of the program.
Chores on Wednesdays include harvesting, cleaning and packaging produce for pick-up by the CSA participants.
Spiegel said this work also enables them to interact with the customers by sharing what they have learned and to use math skills.
The greenhouse is a 24 by 60-foot plastic-covered structure. It houses 220 vertical grow towers, six floating beds and a few extra growing beds.
The vertical towers greatly increase the number of plants she can grow. For every one plant in a horizontal bed, she can grow 10 in a vertical tower.
Outside the greenhouse are some raised beds and this year, the students have worked with Spiegel to install drip irrigation.
Pulaski Grow raises both blue gill and catfish in an 1,800-gallon fish tank located in a nearby brick building, part of the former school that occupied the site.
The waste water from the fish tank is pumped to the greenhouse in a closed system, carrying nutrients to be used in growing the plants hydroponically.
The cleansed water is then pumped back into the fish tank.
Spiegel includes job hunting skills in her program. Her students learn to write job application letters, create resumes and prepare for interviews.
Spiegel also offers three summer camps for youth and tours once a month to educate the public about her farm and agriculture in general.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925