The Emerging Agricultural Technology Pathways Program students and instructors at Strathmore High School had a sale of the organic produce they’ve grown recently in conventional fields and hydroponically at a Farmer’s Market, that is open on Tuesday and Thursday from 3 to 6 p.m., through October 22.
Students had more than two fields of pumpkins, squash, and gourds, hot chilis, including poblano, ghost peppers, Carolina Reapers, and even Scorpion chilis.
Matt Shearer and students also have an amazing hydroponic grow box where they grow green leafy vegetables like kale, romaine lettuce, basil, cilantro, and other types of lettuce.
At the sale there were also different types of succulent plants that have been grown in the students’ climate controlled greenhouses.
Mary Watson, one of the instructors, said that the pathways program has made such a difference. It has opened up opportunities for the student to explore areas of interest to them in school that were not available before.
She said the students are exposed to the technological side of agriculture, some that is very high tech. With the EAT program, being involved in agriculture doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be a farmer. The way farming is happening now, it is very technical.
Watson mentioned how Setton Farms is using technology to maximize their farming operation, and the EAT program at SHS has a full advisory board of farmers, community members, teachers and students. They meet once a month and have a guest speaker, who talks about the agricultural industry standards. And the board helps helps to prepare the EAT students to meet the standards after they graduate from High School.
“I think this is great that they have this at Strathmore High School farm,” said Jenny Davis, a parent, “So we can make purchases and support the school and EAT program.” Davis bought spaghetti squash and warty pumpkins she was going to use for holiday decorations.
Matt Shearer, who is Directing the EAT Pathways program, said, “Everything that we grow is organic,” there are no pesticides, or herbicides. The Broccoli and cauliflower have been planted.
“Good foundations were here at the farm when we started. And it’s allowed us to take off like a rocket ship. It’s almost precipitous.”
“All of the lettuces are being grown hydroponically, and we will also have a aquaponics with catfish later this year.
“We still have the original Navel and Valencia oranges, on the two-and-a-half acres,” Shearer said, “and we are planning a pistachio tree farm.”
All the irrigation was put in by the students, for the corn and other crops. They already sold 800 ears of corn earlier in the season, but there was some gorgeous blue and yellow, and multi-colored decorative corn called Indian glass corn, to be seen in the field.
One of the EAT program students, Cole Tschacher, a junior, said, “The program has really come a long way since I was a freshman, and I’ve been here three years. It’s really teaching us about the new systems used in agriculture. From the crop box, to aquaponics and hydroponics.” Tschacher said after high school he thinks he’d like to join the military, but afterwards he wants to be either a farmer or a rancher.
Watson said, “The kids are seeing food come out of the ground, instead of from the grocery store. So it opens them up to the idea of trying new foods.”
Alix Davis, another EAT student said, “The program has given me an idea about agriculture outside of fruits, vegetables, and animals. The new technology can be used to boost the growing cycles of crops. Using hydroponics so the green leafy vegetables can be grown all year around. And it was cool how the kids got to see how pumpkins are grown and then how they get sold like a crop.”
Shearer spoke about the hydroponic crop of green leafy vegetables, and how they are grown using specialized light, nutrients in the water, and very little water. “We use no soil, no pesticides, herbicides, less water than soil crops, and cut way down on transportation.” They use water, light, and nutrients in the water which is monitored by cell phone, in a small enclosed area, and with the help of two senior students, John Hillen, and Ricky Loftin, they grow the green leafy vegetables, including dill, and cilantro, hydroponically.
Shearer said, “We are not only learning about agriculture, but the physics of light, water quality, food security, and safety.”
“We are very proud of this farm and the EAT program. It’s all the kids and their teachers, working hard,” said SHS Principal Diane Rankin, “We have a lot of good things going on here.”