FoodChain Builds Its First Links In the Yeasty Spaces Around West Sixth Brewing

 West Sixth Brewing Company Brewmaster Robin Sither, Lexington, KY

West Sixth Brewing Company Brewmaster Robin Sither, Lexington, KY

Robin Sither, brewmaster at the new West Sixth Brewing Company, works to keep up with thirsty Bluegrass drinkers, who keep draining the taps of the beers they love. The handsome, shiny new tanks look at home in the cleaned up old building.

 W6 Brewing Inside and Out

W6 Brewing Inside and Out

West Sixth's strong, early success anchors a lot of plans and dreams at the Bread Box, a former Rainbo Bread factory on the northwest edge of Lexington's downtown.

 Aquaponics Demonstration at FoodChain, Lexington, KY

Aquaponics Demonstration at FoodChain, Lexington, KY

Next door in a clean but still dark section of the Bread Box, the shine comes from the ideas and plans of FoodChain Executive Director Becca Self and her energetic board and volunteers. Becca gave photographer/graphic artist/radio host Mick Jeffries and me a tour of FoodChain's first demonstration aquaponic food production system yesterday. Less than a month old, the aquaponics unit boasts healthy fish and growing plants. Mick's young daughter had a good perch during the tour.

 Largemouth Bass in FoodChain Demonstration Tank, Lexington, KY

Largemouth Bass in FoodChain Demonstration Tank, Lexington, KY

Young largemouth bass swim in one tank, supplying valuable food for plants growing hydroponically (roots in water) in separate tanks. Eventually the fish will eat spent grain, the still nutritious, left-behind by-product of West Sixth's beer brewing. (Insert happy fish jokes here—although I failed to ask whether spent grain has any alcoholic properties at all.)

 Parsley and Purple Basil in FoodChain Aquaponics demonstration, Lexington, KY

Parsley and Purple Basil in FoodChain Aquaponics demonstration, Lexington, KY

While the fish offer nutrients the plants can use, the plants clean the water in ways that benefit the fish. It's a virtuous cycle, an example of our old friend from introductory biology, symbiosis.

 See aquaponic rain at FoodChain

See aquaponic rain at FoodChain

FoodChain intends to place demonstration units in several locations around town, so we can all learn about new approaches to food production, and about aquaponics in particular. All the components of these demonstration units are available locally. Students from the University of Kentucky's Sustainable Agriculture program and a professor from Kentucky State University have played crucial roles in getting the first demonstrator up and running happily.

 Future carryout eatery spot at the Bread Box

Future carryout eatery spot at the Bread Box

FoodChain plans to grow beyond aquaponics, demonstrating mushroom production on spent grain in the Bread Box basement, and adding rooftop gardens to make productive use of otherwise unused space. In another kind of virtuous cycle, some of the foods grown on site are likely to end up in one or more restaurants, cafés, or carryout stands that may occupy parts of the astonishing square footage still available for development at the Bread Box. This corner of Lexington is turning into a delicious destination for humans as well as fish and plants. West Sixth Brewing, which has no kitchen, already welcomes outside food onto its premises.

 Future greatness in good space at the Bread Box

Future greatness in good space at the Bread Box

Uses for much of the Bread Box space are still being imagined. Becca and others speak of the potential for part of the space to become a local food center for processing, distribution, teaching, and food enterprises.

About virtuous cycles, one more time: Broke Spoke, an excellent entity committed to "provide better access to better bicycles for all people and to empower individuals to perform their own bicycle maintenance," already occupies a space at the Bread Box. And Roller Girls of Central Kentucky practice in a large Bread Box space four times a week. Perhaps they get thirsty and think about having a fresh, locally crafted beer?

FoodChain, the Bread Box, and West Sixth Brewing Company signal powerful new directions for Lexington and central Kentucky. Becca Self and her board, volunteers, and supporters intend for FoodChain's many eventual parts to function as a living laboratory and teaching center, equipping many more of us to grow, process, cook, preserve, sell, and recycle food in ways that will make us more secure and self-sufficient. I am grateful for the astonishing leadership and sheer nerve Becca and the West Sixth Brewing Company guys offer this lucky community.

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