TIPTON — Agriculture students at Tipton High School can’t wait to start aquaponics.
They’ll fill a tank with tilapia fish. The water the fish live in will flow into two tables. These tables will have floating trays of seeds. The seeds will sprout, and the roots will take in the nitrogen-rich water fertilized by fish waste.
“I’m ready for the aquaponics unit,” said senior Sam Cline, who’s also an avid fisherman.
Aquaponics — using water and fish to grow plants without soil — is just one of the seemingly endless possibilities for Tipton students, thanks to the completion of Total Seed Production Greenhouse.
The 3,000-square-foot greenhouse opened to students in November. With a number of different growing tables, the temperature-controlled facility will allow students to see the growing process up close from seed to full-grown plants and everything in between.
“We’ve just not had the space to grow and see the whole process,” said Stacey Hartley, ag teacher and advisor for Tipton’s Future Farmers of America.
“We’re able to grow a lot more plants,” added student Anthony Bohlander.
The greenhouse is a point of pride for the community that made it possible. Tipton Community School Corporation was ready to finance the project itself, but when it was pitched to the community, there was resounding support.
The Tipton County Foundation awarded a $150,000 grant for the greenhouse. Friends of Tipton Future Farmers of America undertook a fundraising campaign that netted $507,000, enough to fund the project and continue the greenhouse for years to come.
“This is a very typical Tipton kind of thing,” Superintendent Ryan Glaze said of how the project came together.
Cline had the opportunity Wednesday morning to show off the greenhouse and all its features for U.S. Sen. Mike Braun.
A crowd of school officials, students, donors of the project and school board members were on hand for Braun’s visit, part of the Republican senator’s 92 County Tour. Cline also fielded a question from Braun.
Braun remarked how Tipton’s “grassroots, bottom-up approach” to the greenhouse could serve as a blueprint for other communities in Indiana.
“It’s always better,” he said. “This ought to be a model of what we do across the state, in a way.”
Much of the financial support came from local businesses, including in the agriculture sector, which saw the greenhouse as a way to boost interest among students and build a local workforce pipeline.
In regard to increasing interest among students, the greenhouse has done just that.
Ag teacher Jessica Mars said interest is up in horticulture, while other classes have been added, including advanced life science, plant and soil.
The high school hasn’t been able to fulfill every student’s request for an ag class yet due to the volume of students who have signed up. There are more than 200 middle and high school students in the agriculture program.
Some students, like Addison Gremel, will only get a sampling of what the greenhouse has to offer. All eighth grade students, on the other hand, take an agriculture class and will utilize the facility as they make their way through high school.
Tipton schools intends to incorporate the greenhouse with lower grades. Tri-Central students will also take advantage of it.
“I think it’s a good hands-on experience,” Gremel said. “I kinda wish I wasn’t a senior.”
“I think it’s a good break from the day, away from the regular classroom,” Cline added.
Hartley and Mars have plenty of ideas for how their students can utilize the new space.
There’s room for raised garden beds, which could be an addition later on, Hartley said. They could be built by woodshop or welding students.
A plant sale featuring plants grown by Tipton students is in the works for later this spring. Students can grow and sell, or grow and donate, produce.
There’s also Mars’ ag power class, where students learn agriculture mechanics. She envisions her students working on the plumbing, learning how those systems works, if a breakdown occurs.
“They can be the maintenance component,” she said.