Eastern introduces aquaponics system as sustainable agriculture effort in newly constructed greenhouse


WILBURTON, OK (Sept. 16, 2013) – Eastern Oklahoma State College has launched a new sustainable agriculture project that will help increase the college’s environmental efforts while introducing a new farming technique to students.

Eastern recently completed construction on a 2,880-square-foot greenhouse that features aquaponics, a growing system that produces plants without the use of soil. The college was introduced to the system by Dr. Kaben Smallwood, professor of business administration and co-owner of Symbiotic Aquaponic.

“Aquaponics is a form of nontraditional agriculture that uses a recirculating water system to raise and harvest all-natural plants and fish together in a symbiotic environment,” Smallwood said. “Basically, water from the fish habitat provide all the necessary nutrients for growing a variety of plants and as a result, the plants clean the water for the fish. The habitat contains natural bacteria that helps convert the fish waste into food for plants.”

Smallwood describes aquaponics as an innovative approach to farming that allows for year-round production in a greenhouse environment such as Eastern’s.

“Aquaponics is 100 percent sustainable, uses less than one-tenth the amount of water required by traditional farming and can provide higher crop yields than traditional farming,” he said. “In this system, plants have all the water and nutrients they want because they do not have to compete for limited water or nutrient resources. This eliminates the need for additives, fertilizers and other chemicals.”

Horticulture instructor Penny Jones said the result is producing organic vegetables and plants using a more efficient, less expensive growing technique.

“We can use cuttings in the aquaponics beds and they’ll develop roots quickly. For seed germination, it tends to be a lot faster than utilizing a traditional, wet, soil-based media.” Jones said. “Because the fish provide all of the fertilizer, we enjoy a cost savings for our program because we don’t have to purchase synthetic fertilizers.”

Rather than soil, aquaponics utilizes grow media, a combination of expanded shale and clay. Smallwood said the material provides for greater water retention, which improves the college’s water conservation efforts.

Students in Eastern’s horticulture, agriculture education, agronomy and forestry classes are currently getting a hands-on educational experience by maintaining the six aquaponics beds in the new greenhouse. Jones said the students will utilize the aquaponics beds for research and experiments, as well as for propagation for vegetable and bedding plant sales to the public. Future possibilities may include providing fresh, organic produce for use on campus.

Smallwood and his brother, Shelby, were recognized Sept. 11-12 in Washington, D.C. as national finalists for the 2013 Yoshiyama Young Entrepreneurs Program for their Sybiotic Aquaponic business. If selected, the Muskogee natives will receive a $40,000 grant, mentoring, technical aid, and leadership development to help grow their business. The brothers’ goal is provide healthy, all-natural produce and fish to Oklahomans, rural communities, food deserts and other underserved populations.

Eastern will reveal its new greenhouse and aquaponics system to the public during an Open House on Friday, Sept. 20 from noon to 4 p.m. Following the event, the greenhouse will be open for sales on Mondays and Wednesdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern’s greenhouse is located on the south side of Highway 270, across from the softball field and next to the Goddard Livestock Show Arena.

Eastern sophomore Taylor Bell of Wilburton works in the aquaponics beds in the college’s new 2,880-square-foot greenhouse.

Sophomore Kena McGhee of Hugo feeds the fish in the aquaponics system outside Eastern’s new greenhouse as sophomores (left to right) Taylor Bell of Wilburton, Bailey Johnson of Hugo, Steele Rasmusson of Haworth and Keifer Shearer of Broken Bow look on.

Eastern sophomores Keifer Shearer of Broken Bow and Kena McGhee of Hugo prepare plants for an Open House on Sept. 20 at the college’s new greenhouse.

Horticulture instructor Penny Jones (right center) works with students (left to right) Taylor Bell of Wilburton, Kena McGhee of Hugo and Bailey Johnson of Hugo in Eastern’s new greenhouse.

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