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Hot Springs – A new way of growing food is coming to Fall River County.

The Southern Hills Economic Development Corporation was recently awarded a $42,435 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to develop a hydrothermal greenhouse in the county.

“We have three years to complete the grant,” said Andrea Powers, executive director of SHEDCO. “I think we can get it done before that. I think we are looking at exceeding the expectation in term of the timeline. The primary objective of our grant award is to provide a prototype of sustainable growing techniques using hydrothermal energy to create year-round production.”

The grant calls for creating a “heating system prototype using hydrothermal energy for year-round production,” according to the USDA (more information on the grants awarded can be found here: https://www.ams.usda.gov/press-release/usda-announces-1027-million-investment-expand-markets-specialty-crop-and-other-farmers).

The project will be known as “Hydrothermal Applications for Sustainable Agriculture,” otherwise known as HASA.

The grant was announced Friday at Woolly’s Grill and Cellar.

SHEDCO will be aided in their development by South Dakota State University. Western Dakota Technical Institute will also lend help.

“We are excited to be involved,” said Brett Owens, an instructor of horticulture at South Dakota State. “We have similar projects going on on the eastern end of the state.”

The system that will be used has been highly successful in the past, Owens said.

With a producer in Brookings, Owens said they were able to raise the producer’s output of tomatoes per tomato plant from 8 pounds a year to 32 pounds per year.

“I wrote the grant strictly for tomato growing,” Powers said. “We wanted to design it as a prototype rather than profitability for one business.”

Similar to what Owens was doing at South Dakota State was a project undertaken by Bryan Mitchell, program director and instructor of electrical trades at Western Dakota Tech.

He, too, designed an award-winning hydroponics system taking the cyclical nature of a hydroponics system – the combination of growing fish for food and growing produce – and combined them to create a system that could produce food.

His system, he said, saw success and accelerated growth.

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“I can speak for anyone that says that those things will grow as tall as you let them grow,” he said.

This, he added, solidifies the need for groups to be looking for sustainable food production.

They are “extremely excited” to be a part of this project, Mitchell said.

“There’s a new term: regenerative agriculture,” Powers said. “I think that is what we are heading for.”

Through South Dakota State, two of the students involved in the project will come from the Black Hills region, Owens said, with one student coming from Rapid City and one student coming from Hot Springs.

Local agricultural organizations, such as 4-H, will also be able to work with the project, Powers said.

“Replicate it on an individual scale, and if a commercial operation were to come in, we have already proven it out,” she said. “When I wrote that grant, I wrote it to industry standards so that is completely replicable, and, at the end of the project, we will know exactly how much it costs, exactly how much the margin is, exactly how much the payment in kind is.”

A main focus of the project is addressing the food desert located in South Dakota.

Twenty-seven percent of South Dakota is a food desert, Owens said, which is one of the highest in the country.

“We have a small food bank in our town,” said Sandra Woodward, who was at the grant unveiling on Friday representing Edgemont. “We have zero fresh produce and even our grocery store in town, it's god-awful. If I buy the lettuce, I have to eat it today, and everything is just terrible. It's just terrible. There's no fresh food out here.”

Hydroponics has already seen success in Rapid City, said Kelsey Murray, program director for environmental engineering tech.

Mitchell has a map of all the people in Rapid City – roughly 9,000 – that use the food banks attached directly to the aquaponics system as motivation to keep the project going, she said.

“Because Western Dakota Tech itself is right in the middle of a cluster of people who rely on food banks,” she said. “So that is a focal point to our aquaponics system.”

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