Ag Farm upgrade for Strathmore
By Patrick Dillon
strathmore –Porterville Unified School District (PUSD) begun offering career specific areas of study known as “Pathways” at five high schools in 2009. Since that time, Strathmore High School has been home to the Emerging Agriculture Technology (EAT) pathways and this year they are getting a huge upgrade.
Due to a Career Technical Education (CTE) grant that the district received in January of 2016 the students no longer have to work within a quarter acre of space. Instead, $250,000 of that grant have been spent on acquiring 20-acres of land and building materials in order to build a new agriculture farm.
The 20-acres are split up into two separate portions. A 14-acre section next to Strathmore High School will be the main part of this new facility and will include: two 48-foot green houses, a smaller green house, a shade house, a crop box, a farmer’s market, and rows of a variety of plants. An additional six acres where lemon trees will be planted is located next to Harmony Academy. There students will be able to learn how to manage large scale crops.
“Our entire purpose is to get kids engaged in school and graduating with skills that make them employable or ready for college,” said Larson. “We want every kid that comes into our program to walk out the door with the skills to be successful.”
With this new facility students will be able to try their hand at hydroponics and aquaponics, which are two technologies that are revolutionizing growing.
The hydroponics will be housed in a 320 square feet shipping container with five shelves on either side. These containers mostly are used for growing leafy green vegetables such as; lettuce, cabbage, and kale. But many are experimenting with other types of crops.
A string of LED lights that run along the shelves will provide the heat. Watering is done by running water inside a reservoir were the plants roots inside. They can also run a drip system, depending on which plants they grow. The plants also require no pesticides if grown within this system.
Housed in one of the 48-foot green house will be the aquaponics facility, where the students will gain experience in growing fish.
The school has already purchased four 200 gallon tanks that will be used for their enclosed system. The fish will be able to feed off the algae or other plants inside the tank. Then the fish will give nutrients back to the plants through their bodily waste.
The plan is to sell the fish once they are fully grown but the school has to make sure they are following the law. Still, while the fish are growing the schools agriculture science classes will have the chance to measure pH levels within the tanks.
The smaller of the green houses will be used for grafting vines together before being moved to the shade house for hardening. This is a critical step because of the sudden change in environment from a green house to the outdoors.
At the old facility the mock animal clinic will still be used. Students will be able to do bandages on stuffed animals and sutures on blocks of gelatin.
A variety of small scale crops such as tomatoes and olives, will be planted along the rest of the land. Those crops, like most other things, will be sold at the farmers market. And any funds received from the market will go back into the farm for further upgrades and new equipment.
There is no completion date for all of the facilities but the first green house and cropbox should be operational on the first day of school. The foundation has also been laid for the farmers market. The school was also able to hire two full-time farm managers in order to keep things going when the students are unavailable.
“This will be a never ending project, once one thing is completed we’ll start on the next,” said Larson.
These new facilities will help the classes within the pathways program that use them. Strathmore offers courses in agriculture business, agriculture science, and agriculture economics.