They’ve fallen into disrepair over the years, but Virginia Cooperative Extension has a plan that would revamp the greenhouses on Dora Highway and put them to work for the community.
Scott McElfresh, new agriculture agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension’s Pulaski office, approached Pulaski Town Council last week with his proposal.
“The greenhouses on Dora Highway have fallen into disarray,” McElfresh said, noting that it was his observation as a newcomer to the area. “My hope is to get approval through our Extension office and, working with 4-H, to revive those greenhouses, not just for our own programming, but as a community involvement program.”
Although they contain a lot of broken panes, the greenhouses are currently used to dry sludge from the water treatment plant. That will change before long, however, when the town’s treatment plant undergoes an upgrade.
McElfresh said he approached Town Manager John Hawley and engineer Bill Pedigo about his proposal before Christmas and “had their full support … if we can come to an agreement and get the approval of the council to move ahead with this project.”
He said he already has been working with greenhouse specialists to develop a workshop in which 4-H students might be able to provide the labor to revive the greenhouses and maintain them in the future.
He noted it would give the students hands-on experience in the construction and maintenance of greenhouses and they could learn the pros and cons of owning their own greenhouses.
A long-term goal would be to provide a community greenhouse project to tie in with the community garden, just a short distance from the greenhouses.
A community greenhouse would “help people not just grow during the growing season, but also carry over into winter months. It would show the community the advantages of being able to grow year-round,” said McElfresh.
“The possibilities these greenhouses would generate for us for 4-H are tremendous and I’d like to see that conveyed to the community as well. It would make people more self-sustaining,” he said.
McElfresh suggested the greenhouses also could be used for locally-grown tropical fruits and other produce that could be sold at area markets out of season.
He pointed out Virginia State University has a 15-foot papaya tree growing in a campus greenhouse that makes it the only “farm” in Virginia selling locally-grown papayas.
“That type of outside-the-box thinking could be” a draw for Pulaski County, he told council members. “We could grow some out-of-season or tropical crops and sell them at the farmer’s market or sell them around the community.”
He spoke with some people who also are interested in possibly using aquaponics technology in one of the greenhouses. Aquaponics is the cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a re-circulating system that is mutually beneficial to the plants and animals.
“It’s not real well known, but it’s something I’m interested in,” McElfresh said of the new farming technology.
“It sounds like an exciting project,” Mayor Jeff Worrell said of the proposal to rehabilitate the greenhouses. “We’ve been looking for a use for those greenhouses for a long time.”
Worrell encouraged staff and McElfresh to continue working together to see if something can be developed.
Hawley said the next step is to go to the site with McElfresh. He pointed out the town is still using the greenhouses for drying sludge, but that will change when the water plant upgrade is completed.
“We feel like we have one greenhouse we can start with right now … then in a couple of years, hopefully, we’ll have all four greenhouses going,” Hawley said. “I think it would be a great effort for the community and for agritourism and agriculture in the area.”
Hawley said the plan would fit well with Pulaski County Chamber of Commerce’s plans to stress development of local agriculture and agritourism.
“We might be able to grow our own flowers (for town plantings) before too long,” said Hawley.