Students at Reeltown High School are learning about aquaponics thanks to a $5,829 grant through the Coosa Valley Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D). 

Hydroponics is basically growing plants without soil. The function of soil is to supply plants with nutrients and to anchor the plants’ roots. In a hydroponic garden, plants are provided with a complete nutrient formula and an inert growing medium to anchor the plants’ roots so they have easier access to the food and water.

At Reeltown High School, the aquaponic system utilizes live fish in an aquaponic tank. Bluegills, which were caught locally, are kept in a 200- to 300-gallon tank inside the school’s greenhouse. These fish produce waste that microbes convert to fertilizer for the plants. In turn, the plants filter the water that then returns to the fish tank. 

“It takes fish waste, which is converted to ammonia,” agriscience teacher Clint Burgess said. “Then the bacteria that live in the (plant) bed breaks it down from ammonia to nitrates, which feeds the plants.”

Reeltown Future Farmers of America (FFA) student Tanner Hill said he feeds the fish daily and enjoys watching both the fish and the plants grow. 

“I like feeding the fish, and I like watching the different growing stages of the tomatoes,” Hill said. “These tomatoes are growing much faster than the ones we have in potted.”

Another aspect of aquaponics is water conservation. Because the water is recycled, it only needs to be replenished due to evaporation which, in a contained environment such as the greenhouse, is very little.

“You can save water,” Hill said. “This is the same water we put in months ago.”

According to Burgess, not only is aquaponics a way to grow plants and conserve water but it is the future of food production and that is why this program is instrumental at Reeltown.

“(It) allows students to learn about hydroponics, which is really how we will produce food in the future,” Burgess said. 

Coosa Valley RC&D Council’s Terry Martin, state Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville), state Rep. Pebblin Warren (D-Tuskegee), Coosa Valley RC&D councilmember Jerry Parker, RHS principal Tom Cochran, Tallapoosa County Schools superintendent Joe Windle, Coosa Valley RC&D executive director Heidi Richards, Coosa Valley RC&D office manager Christy Cochran, Burgess and FFA students were on all hand Monday morning for a check presentation of the grant provided by RC&D.