A food ministry program affiliated with Crossfire United Methodist Church on N.C. 115 near North Wilkesboro is growing barley sprouts in a hydroponics system as fodder for beef cattle.
The Giving Table LLC installed the hydroponics system in July in a portion of the former Lovette Companies Inc. building on N.C. 115, owned by Crossfire as a place of worship and ministry.
As part of its Seeds of Change initiative, Heifer International provided the Giving Table with $25,000 for the hydroponics system and another $15,000 for the Giving Table to buy 30 head of beef cattle.
The hydroponics system currently is producing 700 to 900 pounds of barley sprouts per day for the 30 head of cattle, which are in a pasture in the Mulberry community.
Seeds of Change is focused on providing better nutrition and reducing poverty in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia by assisting local food and farm entrepreneurs, helping to create jobs and increasing access to food produced locally with sound ecological stewardship, stated a press release.
The Rev. Dwight Smith, an associate pastor at Crossfire and manager of the Giving Table, said the plan is to continuously buy feeder cattle for slaughter and sale.
Smith said part of the beef will be given to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Northwest North Carolina, which stocks food pantries in Wilkes and other area counties that serve low income people.
He said part of the proceeds from sale of the beef will also be given to Second Harvest and other portions will be used for overhead and to buy more feeder cattle.
Smith said another goal of the beef cattle initiative is to create jobs as the program expands.
Mike Hodges, who grew up on a farm in Mountain View, oversees the hydroponics system and explained how it works.
Hodges said barley seeds are first soaked for four to eight hours in a solution that prevents development of mold and algae.
The seeds are then spread out to grow beneath florescent lighting in trays that are 13 feet long and 4 inches deep.
As seeds sprout and grow, they’re fed nutrients mixed in water through pipes leading to each tray.
The barley grows to a height of 5-7 inches and has root “mats” in eight days. Hodges then cuts the barley, with its root mats, into 39-inch sections while still in the trays. He removes the sections, each weighing about 20 pounds, and puts them in tubs so they can be fed to cattle.
The Giving Table’s system includes 80 trays, with 10 harvested per day. The trays are in layers on racks with wheels so they can be moved around to use space more efficiently.
“The top (green portion) of the barley has a lot of nutrients, like spring grass,” he said. “The root mats have high sugar content.”
Hodges said the goal of feeding barley grown in a hydroponics system is to produce healthier, better tasting beef, partly by having more “marbling”, which means more intramuscular fat.
Smith said the Giving Table will have the beef tested to make sure consistency, taste, texture and marbling meets consumer demand.
Smith has been involved with warehousing and transportation since 1988 starting in logistics support for Eller Catering in Taylorsville.