School to table? Pulaski students raise and harvest perch, bluegill and tilapia
Pulaski High School students are raising fish in pond-side tanks near the high school. (Sept. 22, 2017) USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
PULASKI- Every morning throughout the summer, a Pulaski High School student tended two fish tanks that are part of the school’s newest outdoor classroom.
Adam Strassburg, as part of his FFA Agriculture Supervised Experience, was tasked with caring for the fish and making sure the tank's plumbing was operating properly.
FFA is a national organization that teaches its members about leadership and a number of different industries, including agriculture. An agriculture supervised experience is a required project to achieve a Chapter FFA degree. Students at Pulaski who take agriculture-related classes are also enrolled in FFA.
Agriculture, biology, horticulture and construction students, and school staff began working on the outdoor fish tanks and an accompanying hoop house last school year. So far, the tanks have been used to raise fingerling perch and a mix of larger perch, bluegill and tilapia.
“I’ve come every day so far since the beginning of summer to put food in the tank for the fish and watch them grow,” said Strassburg, a high school junior and Pulaski FFA president.
Strassburg is continuing his involvement with the fish now that school has started again.
The hoop house and the two tanks are a learning tool for students and a food source for people, said Kaleb Santy, a Pulaski agriculture teacher.
A key lesson, Santy said, is the important role of sustainable local food sources and protection of the environment.
"We just don’t have enough fish to feed our world yet unless we grow them ourselves," he said.
The perch were removed from the tanks about two weeks ago to protect them from the cold, Santy said.
On Thursday, the process of students and staff harvesting the fish from the two tanks to be readied for sale continued. This included draining a tank and putting the fish in buckets of water for transporting.
“They are a little more of an expensive fish considering they are younger and we have to grow them out yet,” he said Thursday of the perch. “Whereas the fish we are pulling out today are ready for the frying pan.”
The fish are usually sold to Seaway Foods Co., he said. The school also has tanks for fish inside the school. The proceeds will be used for upkeep, additional fish and plants, and possible hoop house and tank upgrades, Santy said.
The tanks were paid for using several grants, including one from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The funds allowed the district to develop a self-funded aquaculture program for the high school, Santy said.
“The concept is this is something that schools could repeat and improve upon,” he said.
Construction on the hoop house is expected to be completed next week, Santy said. Greens, like spinach and collards, will be planted for use in the cafeteria. In the future plants will be able to be grown for about nine months out of the year and fish can be kept outside for about eight months.
The plants in the hoop house, which is being constructed over the fish tanks, clean the tanks by drawing nutrients — essentially fish poop — from the water.
“If we do this right we should be cleaning our pond as opposed adding excess nutrients,” he said.
A federal grant and a grant from the district’s education association helped pay for the structure, Santy said.
The combined cost of the two projects is about $5,000, he said.
Teachers throughout the school use the outdoor classroom for lessons, Santy said.
Thursday afternoon both Santy and Strassburg checked on the fish and the progress of the draining tank.
Strassburg wants to be an agriculture teacher one day. He hopes to one day use the lessons he learned from tending the fish and his teacher in the classroom.
"Mr. Santy is leading me in a really good line, that I can possibly do this and help show other kids, like he is showing me, how cool it is to grow fish," Strassburg said.