Eastern Introduces Aquaponics System as Sustainable Agriculture Effort in Newly Constructed Greenhouse
Eastern sophomore Taylor Bell of Wilburton works in the aquaponics beds in the college’s new 2,880-square-foot greenhouse.
Eastern Oklahoma State College has launched a new sustainable agriculture project that will help increase the college’s environmental efforts while introducing a new farming technique to students.
Eastern recently completed construction on a 2,880-square-foot greenhouse that features aquaponics, a growing system that produces plants without the use of soil. The college was introduced to the system by Dr. Kaben Smallwood, professor of business administration and co-owner of Symbiotic Aquaponic.
“Aquaponics is a form of nontraditional agriculture that uses a recirculating water system to raise and harvest all-natural plants and fish together in a symbiotic environment,” Smallwood said. “Basically, water from the fish habitat provide all the necessary nutrients for growing a variety of plants and as a result, the plants clean the water for the fish. The habitat contains natural bacteria that helps convert the fish waste into food for plants.”
Smallwood describes aquaponics as an innovative approach to farming that allows for year-round production in a greenhouse environment such as Eastern’s.
“Aquaponics is 100 percent sustainable, uses less than one-tenth the amount of water required by traditional farming and can provide higher crop yields than traditional farming,” he said. “In this system, plants have all the water and nutrients they want because they do not have to compete for limited water or nutrient resources. This eliminates the need for additives, fertilizers and other chemicals.”
Horticulture instructor Penny Jones said the result is producing organic vegetables and plants using a more efficient, less expensive growing technique.
“We can use cuttings in the aquaponics beds and they’ll develop roots quickly. For seed germination, it tends to be a lot faster than utilizing a traditional, wet, soil-based media.” Jones said. “Because the fish provide all of the fertilizer, we enjoy a cost savings for our program because we don’t have to purchase synthetic fertilizers.”
Rather than soil, aquaponics utilizes grow media, a combination of expanded shale and clay. Smallwood said the material provides for greater water retention, which improves the college’s water conservation efforts.
Students in Eastern’s horticulture, agriculture education, agronomy and forestry classes are currently getting a hands-on educational experience by maintaining the six aquaponics beds in the new greenhouse. Jones said the students will utilize the aquaponics beds for research and experiments, as well as for propagation for vegetable and bedding plant sales to the public. Future possibilities may include providing fresh, organic produce for use on campus.
Smallwood and his brother, Shelby, were honored in October by the Hitachi Foundation with the 2013 Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Award for their company’s innovative approach to growing all-natural produce and protein in rural Oklahoma. Now in its fourth year, the Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Program recognizes leaders operating viable businesses that fill needs in the market while creating social value. The awards support businesses whose innovations tackle critical issues such as poverty, sustainability, education, community health, and workforce practices. In addition to a $40,000 grant, the 2013 Yoshiyama Entrepreneurs will receive business mentoring and access to a network of peers and advisers through the foundation and partner organizations.