Community College in Southwest Embraces Aquaponics to Grow Farmers of the Future

Urban Agriculture Students at Santa Fe Community College learn about hydroponics and aquaponics. A new aquaponics facility is on the horizon for the college.(photo courtesy Adam Cohen/Santa Fe Community College)

Urban Agriculture Students at Santa Fe Community College learn about hydroponics and aquaponics. A new aquaponics facility is on the horizon for the college.(photo courtesy Adam Cohen/Santa Fe Community College)

With the embrace of aquaponics growing in tow with the urban agriculture sector, Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico wants to stay ahead of the curve and insure that its students are positioned to become the farmers of the future.

“The aquaponics industry is growing—10 years ago no one had heard of aquaponics and hydroponics—now people are excited,” says Adam Cohen, lead faculty member for the college’s greenhouse management program. “In the next five years, where do we go? We want to get information out to people and provide students with a way to go out and find jobs.”

Cohen says that aquaponics is a great agricultural technology to employ and teach in New Mexico as the state has a very arid climate and trenchant water resource challenges.

The greenhouse management program continues to grow and this fall will welcome over 20 students, says Cohen. It began three years ago with a small-scale aquaponics / hydroponics operation.

Santa Fe Community College will expand its greenhouse program with the addition of a new aquaponics system that is expected to be up and running by January, 2017. The college obtained funding to build the aquaponics facility from the Higher Education Department of New Mexico. It will serve as a teaching and training tool for the college’s students.  

“This is a commercial training ground—the idea was always to create commercial farms,” he says. “Some students are interested in commercial production, and lots of students want to set up their own urban agriculture farms.”

The resulting produce and fish grown using the system will be used by the college.

Once construction of the aquaponics facility is complete, the greenhouse management program will include more than 12,000 square feet of space. According to Cohen, four separate greenhouses will be devoted to different growing methods—aquaponics, hydroponics, aquaculture, and small systems. 

“The old system worked, but it wasn’t the most optimal teaching environment,” he says.

Cohen is excited about greater independent study and research opportunities that will be afforded by the new facility.

Santa Fe Community College president Randy Grissom is also happy about the new facility. He wants the college to be known for its sustainable agriculture curriculum, which addresses a range of issues including food insecurity, water use, and healthy foods.

“We want to give students specialized skills to set up a greenhouse system, and also give exposure to innovation and business startup concepts,” Grissom says.

He wishes to give students in the program the opportunity to create their own goals, and he envisions a paid internship program that is tied to urban agriculture educational programs at the college.

In addition, Grissom expects the new aquaponics facility and the college’s other urban ag programs to make a significant impact on Santa Fe in terms of economic development and health.

“An advantage is less importing of food and increasing awareness of healthier foods—not only ordering what’s on the dollar menu,” he says. “We want to take greenhouse concepts to food deserts—there’s lots of opportunity here to do that.” 

With its emphasis on the future of sustainability in agriculture and exploration of aquaponics and greenhouse, Cohen echoes Grissom’s sentiments and says, “Santa Fe Community College will be the place to go, in the top tier in the United States,” he says. “We’ll be on an equal footing with major agricultural universities, although the community college is not as focused on research as it is on application.”

Correction 07/27/16

The article previously stated in error that Ecoponex would own and operate the aquaponics facility. The facility, in fact, is owned completely by Santa Fe Community College. The article also erroneously stated that the system will utilize Ecoponex’s REEF (Renewable Energy Efficient Farming) system. This is not the case. Ecoponex is planning to build their prototype facility on our campus in the new future. That facility will be adjacent to, but separate from Santa Fe Community College’s teaching facilities.

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