Whisler hopes to build VoTech-like atmosphere for Aquaponics

(Part two of a two part series)

As Aquaponics grows, chemistry teacher Dan Whisler explains how the routine of the facility supplies produce.“There are two media beds for plants who don’t need their roots submerged in water twenty four hours a day,” he said. “The media beds you plant things in, you flood them with this nutrient rich water, and then you let the water drain out. Well, you still have some nutrients and some water trapped in all those pores, so the nutrient beds are flooded twice a day and drained, and in those beds you can grow tomatoes and cucumbers, and a variety of other plants.

”Whisler believes that the aquaponics facility would let students build skills in multiple academic areas. He also thinks students would get live experience helping out with a business.“You aren’t just doing one subject,” Whisler said. “It’s Biology, it’s Chemistry, it’s Entrepreneurship, it’s running a business. It is very much community support. Students are learning by doing. It’s not studying out of a textbook. It’s on the job training.”

While showing students a presentation of the project’s proposal in his chemistry class, some students showed interest, particularly junior Alley Rowland.“It’s a new way of farming that I have never heard before,” Rowland said. “It combines two things I like to do, gardening and fishing. It looks like fun to me, and you can learn new ways of combining the two with chemistry and the outdoors.

Principal Bill Anderson is thrilled for students to have a chance to learn this way.

“Opportunities abound for students who may be interested in this project,” Anderson said. “Students learn the science behind aquaponics, which refers to a system that combines aquaculture and hydroponics. The process is very fascinating and could provide an opportunity for students interested in agriculture to gain credits by working outside the classroom in a fully functioning aquaponics system.”

The proposal is to set the facility up as a 501C3 and non-profit organization.

“It’s its own stand alone facility,” Whisler said. “It would be a non-profit organization run by a board of directors.”

According to Whisler, students involved in AquaPonics would not only be able to learn, but also could come back and be paid outside the class setting.

“Students would be students Monday through Friday, but there would then be part-time jobs on weekends, and holidays, and over the summer where those students are paid student interns,” Whisler said. “It’s going to take a team working together to make the facility run efficiently.”

David Buckley, a retired worker from IBM, has done some calculations.

“He’s worked with the software to show that in a three-year time period this is a profitable and sustaining business,” Whisler said.

An estimated number of students needed has been concluded.

“Right now I’m guessing maybe six to 10 students would be an ideal number, six to 10, eight to 12,” Whisler said.

Whisler envisions a similar atmosphere to the Vo-Tech program.

“I’d like it be as we get further down the road that we have juniors and seniors that are both a part of the program,” Whisler said. “A place where the juniors are the year-one students who are learning the day-to-day operation of the facility, and the seniors then have worked in there for a year so they’re now the leaders teaching the juniors, and the cycle just continues so that every year you aren’t training a new group of students.”

Even with the hours of work involved, Whisler can’t wait to get started.

“I see all kinds of potential,” Whisler said. “Potential just means there’s work to do. It’s a neat opportunity for students, the school districts and the community to make this happen.”