FFA students make a splash

Published 12:31 am Friday, October 28, 2011

Nearly 150 tilapia raised by Future Farmers of America students at Washington High School will be available for the public to purchase at Washington Crab and Oyster Company. (WDN Photo/Vail Stewart Rumley)

They are the Future Farmers of America, yet there’s not a field in sight. It’s harvest time but these Washington High School students don’t need to know how to operate a combine. They use nets to reap their crop.

The Renewable Resources and Agricultural Science classes of Washington High School have been growing fish. Two tanks full of tilapia were gently netted Thursday and currently rest on ice at Washington Crab and Oyster Company, part of the hands-on approach “Ag” teachers Daniel Manzer and Buffy Everette advocate for the class.

“By the time the kids get to me, they’ve usually been sitting in the last class for 90 minutes,” said Manzer, “I like to get them out of their seats and doing something.”

Part of that something is cultivating the tilapia now for sale on the local market. The harvest yielded between 130 and 150 fish from the two tanks, but thanks to the donation of six additional tanks by Southside High School, the program at WHS will soon be expanding.

“We’re hoping to grow more tilapia and add striped bass,” said Everette. “We’d like to do flounder and grass shrimp.”

The goal is to have two harvests a year, which shouldn’t be hard to reach because tilapia tend to mature quickly. In the process, students learn the mechanics of aquaculture (the farming of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions), feeding the fish, maintaining water temperature and cleaning filters.

“Aquaculture is going to be a huge business in the future,” said Tony Tripp, owner of Washington Crab and Oyster Company. “There’s a big market for farm raised fish in the Northeast.”

Tripp buys the fish from the high school at market price and will sell them as “farm raised” at his store on Pierce Street.

The aquaculture project is the type of real-world experience Manzer wants to impart to his students. Agricultural science is a broad field, but one of its most important undertakings is to seek ways to feed the world’s population in a safe way, and without depleting natural resources. Research and development in agricultural sciences is already in high demand, but with the world population approaching 7 billion people, the field is growing, as is the program at Washington High School.

Last year, Manzer was the lone Ag teacher at WHS. Now, the school is one of the few in the region to have two teachers.

“It’s a program that covers everything – all types of power, aquaculture, agriculture, biofuels,” said Everette, who is currently getting her master’s degree in Agricultural Education at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University.

Everette isn’t the only person at WHS planning to get a degree in Agricultural Sciences.  Manzer, a N.C. State grad, has wielded his influence, swaying Charon Spencer to apply to his alma mater. Spencer has already attended a state agricultural convention as well as a week-long FFA camp in his tenure as president of WHS’s Future Farmers of America.

“Mr. Manzer opened my eyes to it,” Spencer said of the possibility of a future career in agricultural science. “My N.C. State application is at home. I’ve just got to complete it.”

Future careers and worldwide concerns aside, the students in the Ag class just seemed to be having fun as they harvested the fish they’ve nurtured for a year. There is an upside to relinquishing their charges to the fish market, according to senior Marta Zenil, and that would be getting rid of the smell.