By Meg Dickens
Most locals know about the Johnson County High School greenhouses and aqua center as a staple in the FFA program. What you may not know is just how popular these premises really are. Hundreds of people travel from around the world to tour these facilities per year. School groups, state groups, and even national groups come to visit. A few examples of faraway visitors include North Korea, China, Belgium, England, Holland, Scotland and every state in the United States. It is time to take a closer look at a familiar place.
The greenhouses opened first. The state owned the original greenhouse located in Jackson, Tennessee. After former agriculture teacher Harvey Burniston Jr. requested the greenhouse, four volunteers traveled to Jackson, dismantled it and reconstructed it at JCHS. Greenhouse One, opened in 1985 and holds mostly flowering plants. Greenhouse Two opened in 1989 and holds tropical plants. Greenhouse Three, opened in 1994 and holds hydroponic plants. It was built from funds from a House grant from the University of Tennessee to raise floating tobacco. Together, these greenhouses cover 3,000 square feet.
Many are more familiar with Greenhouse Three than they would imagine. Other than supplying local schools and the regular customer, its produce is also used in many restaurants like Mateo’s, TeamMates, La Cucina and Butler Grill to name a few. Produce is grown with care by students with help and encouragement from their mentors. They do everything from planting the seed in perlite, testing and adjusting the water acidity, configuring the perfect fertilizer formula, weeding, pollinating, harvesting and packaging the product once it is ready.
The Aqua Center was proposed in 1995 and came to fruition in May of 1997. Johnson County High School would use these facilities to pioneer aquaponics. The facility is 9,000 square feet and includes raceways that are far deeper than most people are tall. The staff and students perform a variety of different agricult
ure there including hydroponics, aquaponics and recently aeroponics.
Aquaponics is a type of aquaculture in which farmed fish waste supplies nutrients for hydroponically grown plants, which in turn purify the water. The JCHS Aqua Center does this most prominently with tilapia and ferns. The ferns feed off the fish waste and return the water oxygenated to the fish while destroying harmful nitrates in the process. It is a good example of symbiosis at work.
Agriculture teacher Thomas Boyd loves seeing growth. Both the plants and students mature over time. Boyd enjoys working with the students. The word “with” is the keyword. This program functions as a partnership. Students work with the help and guidance of their teachers, who maintain the fish and plants during breaks and weekends. The program gives students real-life experience in the field.
“The field is wide open,” Boyd said. “It’s a fine option for a lot of people, and you get to see new life spring forth every year.”Alexa Daye and Kala Thompson, both juniors are so inspired by their experience that they plan to open a greenhouse and landscaping business together later in life. “I love this class,” Thompson said. “You’re not stuck in a building all day. “She also expressed her love of selling plants to customers. She and Daye are the primary sellers.
Do you want to support this program? Produce, herbs, flowers and more are available for purchase at Johnson County High School. 100 percent of proceeds go back into the program. While you are there, check out the hard work that makes this all possible.
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