Ag Department develops aquaponics-based class


Photo by Wes Porter

The most recent addition to the Ag program, this hydroponic system is a much more efficient way to harvest crops. “There’s no waste, because it keeps being constantly recycled,” Agriscience teacher Anthony Mikalauskas said.

Wes Porter, Reporter

After receiving much attention with the arrival of Luna the heifer, the Agriculture department is now planning to introduce a classroom dedicated to hydroponics and aquaponics.

“What we would like to do next year is have a dedicated aquaponics space and have students develop their own systems,” Agriscience teacher Anthony Mikalauskas said. “All you really need is PVC pipe, silicone, a pump, a tank, and some light and electricity and you can do it.”

Aquaponics consists of cycling water through fish tanks, which input nutrients into the water, then to plants which absorb the nutrients, then back to the fish. Aquaponics began thousands of years ago-but modern aquaponics is only beginning to take shape.

Mikalauskas hopes to offer more opportunities for students to use hydroponic systems, with the goal being an eventual aquaponics-based class.

“Next year if we have students develop their own systems, we can put various plants in these hydroponic systems,” Mikalauskas said.

Mikalauskas recognizes that classic agriculture may be simpler, but emphasizes that aquaponics and hydroponics offer many benefits that classic agriculture does not.

“You don’t have to deal with pests and weeds [and] you can maintain it at a constant temperature which extends your growing season,” Mikalauskas said. “Having a closed system eliminates waste. In places where there are shortages of water, or a lot of pests, or you don’t have a lot of space, these systems work really well.”

As agriculture becomes increasingly based on closed systems like aquaponics and hydroponics, Ag classes need to adapt with the changes. “This is a big thing now,” Mikalauskas said. “Our agriculture classes need to address this as a real source of food production, for now and for the future.”

A new hydroponics classroom isn’t the only change from the Ag program in the coming years. Principal Joe Jira is pushing for the construction of a barn.

“We are pushing to get a barn built in the next three years…where Luna lives in the pasture area,” Jira said. “We are going to start a major campaign to do that.”

Hereford is the only school with an Agriscience program in Baltimore County. With more courses offered each year, growth is expected.

“The Ag program is alive and well,” Jira said. “The number of courses we are offering reflects that.”