Aquaponics in Farm to School

Aquaculture Department at the Alma Bryant High School in Mobile AL

During the recent Southern SAWG conference, we took a field trip to visit the Alma Bryant High School. Combining science and technology, the Aquaculture Department teaches practical skills in math, science and chemistry. Working with commercially important species, the school operates a Cobia hatchery along with growing Redclaw Crawfish (texture of crawfish, taste of lobster!). The Redclaw is “cheap to feed, easy to haul and process and easy to sell” and they reproduce all year long. The school currently has about 123 females with about 24,000 babies.

"This is an Australian red claw crawfish, in each one of these cages here we have 25 females and 5 males," says Alma Bryant Aquaculture Teacher Julian Stewart. “Students here are already living in a coastal seafood/agricultural community. So, it benefits them to learn about a bona fide aquaculture operation and gain hands on experience in local work.”

photos by Pam Kingfisher

photos by Pam Kingfisher

The Aquaculture Department learned a lot from Katrina – “Katrina made us more sustainable. We noticed that the fish in the ponds lived, but everything in the tanks died”. When they rebuilt the system was changed to above ground lined tanks with all the utilities buried underground and moved the whole operation into greenhouses.

Some topics taught in class include polyculture, growing multiple species in the same tank, and aquaponics which is growing land plants with their roots in aquaculture water.  "What you have is a compete ecosystem here.  You have the producer which is the lettuce, the consumer which is the crawfish and the decomposer which is the bacteria," says Stewart. These red crawfish aren't in season right now. But, they're always in season at Alma Bryant High School.

"I like the hands on experience- we usually just handle the crawfish, and tank them one from one tank to another and separate them, whether they have eggs are not," says student Justin Raybon. These species have good economic potential for the school, which shows students that an aqua-business can be successful. "They're 50 cents a piece so that's 5 thousand dollars- we have fee costs we want to expand, it's a good way to teach kids basic economics," says Stewart.

The BP Deepwater explosion also severely impacted the seafood industry, so the school is partnering with the Fish and Wildlife, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Auburn University Shellfish Lab to begin restoration projects for oysters. The oysters clean the water quickly and naturally, so students will be working with personal oyster baskets, building barrier reefs and oyster nurseries in the gulf. The department is also starting an onsite oyster farm, since "Oystering is part of the heritage in this part of the county. We think that the off-bottom oyster farming is going to be big business here. We want them to come out of high school with a good future," says Stewart.

Aquaculture teacher: Julian Stewart

Aquaculture teacher: Julian Stewart

By the way Julian Stewart was named Secondary Teacher of the Year!

Pam Kingfisher