Original Date: 01/22/2001
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Information : Alternative Farming Center
The innovative Agriculture Department at Johnson County High School is taking agriculture well into the 21st century. Through its aquaculture farming program, the school has developed an affordable alternative for farmers and entrepreneurs who are in need of making significant changes in their farming methods. The Alternative Farming Center has received national attention and attracted visitors from across the U.S. and overseas to study the innovative methods.
Johnson County High School in Mountain City, Tennessee has developed and instituted a program to introduce aquaculture technology to former tobacco farmers in the local area. As tobacco demands decrease yearly in the less- than-ideal farming conditions of mountainous eastern Tennessee, an alternative to conventional farming techniques is needed. Without such an alternative, many small farms will be lost and the local economy will suffer. Aquaculture offers a low-tech, environmentally friendly, profitable solution to farmers.
At the Alternative Farming Center, students raise tilapia, a warm water edible fish, and koi, a water garden fish, in a 9,000 square foot facility. Water garden plants are grown on top of the water, hanging baskets flourish overhead, and bedding plants are raised on rolling tables over the fish. Hydroponic tomatoes, green peppers, and cucumbers are produced in the raceways, while hydroponic lettuce is also grown directly over the fish. The facility is heated and cooled via a geothermal system that maintains the required temperature of the 90,000-gallon facility. Using this alternative energy source ensures minimum maintenance and operating costs. The closed-loop water circulation system within the facility also eliminates environmental pollution as no discharge of water is required. Water intake to replace lost water due to evaporation is approximately 200 gallons per day.
Ideal growing conditions are maintained within the greenhouses, allowing hydroponic crops to be raised in approximately half the time of conventional farming. Students harvest 250 to 300 heads of Salina bibb lettuce weekly as well as 40 to 60 pounds of tomatoes. The tilapia grow to approximately 1.5 pounds in one year, making them market ready in a relatively short time. The school presently harvests over 25,000 pounds of tilapia per year.
As a school-based work development environment, the Alternative Farming Center is enabling students to take academic skills learned in the classroom and apply them in everyday applications to help advance technology. Over 400 of the school’s approximately 700 students participate in this program. This program has received national attention and attracted visitors from over 30 states and several foreign countries to study the innovative methods. With proper market research and diversity of products being raised, the Alternative Farming Center could be an affordable alternative for farmers and entrepreneurs.
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