A school of fish

R-S Central High School agriculture department raises tilapia.
Apr. 11, 2013 @ 05:18 AM

The agriculture department at R-S Central is raising something yummy for the community using aquaculture.

"I try to diversify to capture the attention of the most kids. If they aren't interested in the greenhouses, they can try livestock or look at this aquaculture," said Brandon Higgins, agriculture teacher.

The classes have been raising tilapia, which they are selling to local restaurants.

"We have had them for a little over a year. I'm constantly looking for sustainable ways to feed the world," Higgins said.

Higgins decided to use the aquaponics system to raise the fish in a simulated natural environment. This is a method developed by Growing Power, a group that uses education and projects to develop community food systems.

According to Growing Power's website, by using gravity as a transport, water is drained from the fish tank into a gravel bed where bacteria break down the toxic ammonia in fish waste to nitrate and then to nitrogen. The filtered water is pumped from the gravel bed to the growing beds and then flows back into the fish tank.

"The system has allowed us to go vertical in our greenhouse space. It doesn't require a lot of land space and everything is contained right here," Higgins said.

The students in the animal science classes feed the fish once a day and check the pH, nitrate and ammonia levels to chart the water quality.

"It's another thing you learn to do. He has proven to us that it's something anybody can do," Ali Bovender, a senior agriculture student, said. "We are doing it, we aren't watching someone do it."

The classes have been selling their tilapia at $2.50 per fish. Higgins said they have sold 50 to a few local restaurants including the Spindale Fresh Fish Market and Cafe at the Mall in Forest City.

"We had a relationship with Cafe at the Mall for a long time. We will grow something and ask if they want to try it," Higgins said. "The way we market everything else is word of mouth."

"I'm a business person and I like to see businesses develop. We can plant seeds in these young people and give them something that they can go for here in the county because we have such beautiful agriculture land and a lot of these young ones, they really would like to stay on the land on the farm," said Liz Rose, owner of Cafe at the Mall. "As a chef, I know what the cooks like and I can plant some ideas for the school. They are doing things out of the norm for this county."

Rose said she is currently sold out of the tilapia, but will purchase more when Higgins does his next harvest. All of the money raised goes back into the agriculture program to pay for student trips and activities.

For more information about the tilapia call R-S Central High School at 828-287-3304.