Ag and science students develop fish farm

Students at Hauser High School are getting hands-on experience in developing a fish farm.

The project, which features more than 100 fish in two 500-gallon tanks, is being led by animal science and horticulture students, said Aleesa Dickerson, a Hauser agriculture teacher. The tanks are located in the high school’s shop area.

The concept of a fish farm at Hauser was proposed after Dickerson started a similar project when she taught in the Fayette County School Corp. in Connersville.

The school used $3,000 in grant money from the Columbus-based Stadler Brothers, who were responsible for starting the Stadler Packing Co., and additional funds from the Hope FFA chapter, to purchase the fish tanks.
The farm will raise tilapia that will be sold once the fish are big enough, Dickerson said.

Dickerson said the fish that are harvested will be served at the FFA’s annual banquet or sold at Hope Heritage Days at the FFA booth.

Once they are at market weight, food science students will learn how to filet and package the fish, while the horticulture students will use the nutrients provided by the fish in the form of waste to fertilize lettuce, basil and tomatoes.

Dickerson said the fish waste provides nutrients and fertilizer to the plants, while the plants also will help remove carbon dioxide from the water and replenish oxygen for the fish to breathe.

Students maintain the fish tank, supervise feeding of the fish and test pH levels of the tanks each day.

“It’s a really good learning experience for students,” Dickerson said. “I’ve involved them in every step of it.”

Hands-on projects such as the fish farm are meant to provide them with real-world experiences, Dickerson said.

Students are also working to build a hydroponic system in the greenhouse using four 10-foot PVC pipes that uses a constant flow of filtered water filled with nutrients from the fish tanks. The system, which doesn’t use soil, will be used to help grow the vegetables with the hope that the lettuce, basil and tomatoes will grow and be used in the school’s cafeteria, she said.

“It’s a mutually beneficial setup where the fish are giving the plants nutrients and the plants are giving the fish oxygen,” Dickerson said.

However, the development of the fish farm hasn’t been without some challenges. About 200 of the 240 fish that were originally purchased died after entering a filter in the tanks.

Dickerson said the school recently decided to buy 80 fish for $120 to replace those that were lost. A screen is being placed over the filter to prevent the incident from happening again.

“We will purchase more fish in three months so we are on a three-month rotation and are harvesting year round,” Dickerson said.

Madison Stroll, a Hauser junior, who relocated to Hope a year ago, said she first learned about the concept of a fish farm and a hydroponic system that had already been established when she was a student in Florida.

Justin Stafford, also a junior, said the hands-on aspect of fish farming is beneficial.

“We can do all things in-house and get hands on with what we’re learning. The fish grow, the plants grow and we get to reap the benefits,” he said.

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