Extension TodayNews from and about the 1890 Land-Grant Extension System
Message from the Chair
Vonda Richardson, Extension Administrator, Florida A&M University
Extension Today is a monthly digital newsletter intended to highlight 1890 Cooperative Extension and provide updates across the 1890 Land-Grant System. 1890 Extension’s work in agriculture has been diverse and responsive to the emerging enterprises engaged by agricultural clientele. 1890s have an impressive record in evaluating emerging enterprises and providing access for small, limited resource audiences.
In June's edition of Extension Today, we are highlighting 1890 Extension programs in aquaculture, wildlife and fisheries, aquaponics and hydroponics. See how 1890s cultivate these emerging, and oftentimes non-traditional, farm and food enterprises and develop appropriate and viable operations for small farmers and communities.
I invite you to explore the varied educational programs, applied research and outreach by our very talented Extension experts at our institutions. Continue to stay safe and protect each other.
Wildlife management education for teachers
By Karnita Garner, Environmental Specialist & Urban Natural Resources Team
COVID-19 catalyzed innovations in Extension program delivery. To this end, the Alabama Cooperative Extension System’s Urban Environmental Science Education Program (UESEP) at Alabama A&M University introduced new virtual initiatives through its Camp Conservation program. This program is typically an outdoor youth field day that explores concepts like wildlife management.
In 2020, Camp Conservation for Teachers: A Virtual Workshop Series offered educators in grades K-8 opportunities for professional development. A total of 105 educators learned strategies to effectively improve student learning outcomes and to enhance their ability to engage students in wildlife education. Camp Conservation for Teachers will be offered again this summer. Educators will be introduced to UESEP's adopted curriculum, Project Learning Tree, which is correlated to state academic standards and aligns extremely well with 4-H. In addition, participants will learn new techniques for integrating environmental education into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects.
Camp Conservation is a collaborative effort with the Alabama Forestry Foundation and will cover topics relating to the management of native wildlife such as gopher tortoises and songbirds. Continuing education units will also be available through the Alabama Math Science Technology Initiative for those who complete the course.
Visit www.aces.edu/go/CampConservation2021 to register.
Alcorn Extension explores global buckets: A new way to farm
By Renita Lacy, Staff Writer
Educators from the Health and Wellness Community and Family Garden, an entity of the Alcorn State University Extension Program (ASUEP), have implemented a container gardening project for local family and community gardens. Inspired by the work of Max and Grant Buster, the Alcorn State University Extension Program is exploring more inventive ways to reduce food insecurity, improve nutrition intake and strengthen family relationships.
The container garden concept teaches the principles and practices of soil, water and crop management. According to Ralph Arrington, Extension associate, ASUEP, the objective is to teach individuals the basic concepts of agronomy and aquaculture sustainability. Using two 5-gallon buckets placed inside of one another, this unique system for growing food is said to reduce water usage between 50 percent and 80 percent, with a 100 percent reduction in weeds. Once planted, very little attention is required, and individuals with little to no training can reap bountiful benefits.
The advantages of instructing and managing the global bucket container garden verses traditional gardens concepts are develop a mobile growing system to assist urban gardeners and producers in their understanding of soil, water, nutrient and pest management; transfer learning through transit-sharing of fruits and vegetables during germination and production; and maintain better nutrient and watering management practices while developing a consistent and comfortable environment for all.
CSU Extension expands aquaponics systems in 2021 to increase learning opportunities
New, improved and additional aquaponics systems are now installed within the Central State University Extension (CSUE) Aquaponics Demonstration Facility that will offer increased educational opportunities to those considering adding the growing operation.
“Our first year with creating the aquaponics system involved a little bit of troubleshooting as we learned what systems worked best within a greenhouse operation,” says CSUE agriculture/natural resources educator Marc Amante. “This year, we will be adding several new systems based on what we learned.”
“Aquaponics is a closed loop system that combines conventional aquaculture (the raising of aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in a mutually symbiotic environment. The aquaponics system utilizes the waste of one element for the benefit of another. In this case, the waste produced by the fish benefits the growing plants,” says CSUE Program Leader for Agricultural and Natural Resources Dr. Cindy Folck.
Currently, 450 tilapia fingerling are being raised that will be harvested in about six months. A variety of lettuces and herbs are also being grown within the system. A backyard aquaponics operation will also be created this year, Amante adds, that is known as the "chop and flip" system. This operation utilizes a IBC tote, which creates a smaller system that could be used in a basement or small outdoor area to help growers experience a scaled-down system. For more information about the Extension or research aquaponics program, contact Folck at afolck@CentralState.edu.
Oysters and lettuce and fish, oh my! Aquaculture and aquaponics at DSU
“Take the project to the people.” That’s the Extension model, right? When program mobility includes converting a 40-foot shipping container into a mobile aquaponics lab, you know that Dr. Dennis McIntosh, Delaware State University (DSU) professor and Extension specialist, is involved.
“To set up aquaponics, you've got to have a certain amount of infrastructure. To set up aquaculture, you've got to have a certain amount of infrastructure,” said McIntosh. To support his projects, he must think outside the box.
Aquaculture is the production of fresh and saltwater organisms, like fish, mollusks and plants, for harvest. This industry produces more than 50 percent of all seafood produced worldwide for human consumption.
Aquaponics is an environmentally sustainable method of growing plants without soil. It blends aquaculture and hydroponics by using excess nutrients from fish production to fertilize plants. This environmentally sustainable process has been studied and practiced on DSU’s campus for at least the last 10 years.
FAMU Extension Protected Agriculture Program
The Protected Agriculture Program began in 2014 with a U.S. Department of Agriculture/1890 Capacity Building Grant and additional funds from Florida A&M University Extension. The program is located off campus at the FAMU Research and Extension Center in Quincy, Florida. It aims to promote the growth of specialty crops, mainly selective fruits and vegetables such as strawberries, leafy lettuce and greens, sweet and hot peppers, herbs and tomatoes, to small farm producers.
A mix of conventional, organic and hydroponic production techniques is demonstrated via small acreage and engineered production systems. Modern agriculture has been experiencing continuous growth in engineered plant production, particularly hydroponics and aquaponics.
These systems allow for a smaller crop production footprint, use less water than in-grown production and usually are under cover of a protective structure. Passive cooling and solar heating, as is the case with high tunnel ventilation, or having controlled environment agriculture technologies to control the indoor plant environment can optimize plant growth, quality and production efficiency.
Outreach on these and other specialty crop production practices is available through alternative crop enterprise and high tunnel workshops, as well as farm tours at the FAMU Research and Extension Center. For more information, contact Dr. Alex Bolques, FAMU Extension crop specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An emerging farming technique that requires fish and water could shape the future of food production.
Aquaculture is the process of rearing, breeding and harvesting aquatic species. Instead of the traditional method of growing fish outdoors in open ponds, recirculation aquaculture systems are unique ways to farm fish in indoor tanks with a controlled environment. Donald Bacoat, aquaculture carpenter and production assistant for Fort Valley State University’s Cooperative Extension Program, emphasized the significance of fish farming.
“As our populations continue to grow, we cannot get enough aquatic life from the wild to sustain us,” he said. “Consequently, in the United States, the amount of seafood consumption has been steadily rising. Ten years ago, we were getting more fish from the wild. As time progresses, we are producing more aquaculture food because that is pretty much our only viable option.”
FVSU’s aquaculture facility and on-campus greenhouse serve as educational spaces for farmers, students and interested citizens to tour and learn about the benefits of aquaculture and the process of starting a fish farm.
Keita Dawson of Ula Farms runs a successful aquaponics farm in Gray, Georgia. She has benefited in many ways from being a Georgia Aquaculture and Aquaponics Network (GAAN) member and from Bacoat’s expertise on freshwater fish. “I treasure being a part of a group that can guide me, and I can guide them on my experiences,” she said.
Engaging the next generation of agriculture scientists
Kentucky State University was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Capacity Building Grants Program titled, “Engaging Underrepresented Students in Real-World Investigations in the High School Classroom to Foster the Next Generation of Agriculture Scientists.”
Total funding for this three-year project, from April 2021 to March 2024, is $149,378. The project director is Dr. Ken Thompson, state specialist for 4-H STEM/Youth Development at Kentucky State University. He will work with Dr. Kirk Pomper, dean of the College of Agriculture, Community and the Sciences and director of the Land Grant Program; Dr. Travella Free, state 4-H program leader and assistant Extension professor; and Dr. James Tidwell, chair of the School of Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences.
The project will be a collaboration with four urban high schools and two middle schools to address the need to strengthen high school students’ STEM knowledge and skills. Other objectives include applying STEM content and skills in problem-solving contexts (i.e., solve real-world problems) prescribed by Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), developing their interest in STEM as a discipline and/or as a career choice, and college enrollment of Kentucky students.
The long-term goals will be to develop a strong STEM Extension education program at Kentucky State that will encompass the entire state of Kentucky. KSU anticipates reaching 240 new students per year for 720 students to be served by this project directly.
Empowering aquaponic producers to increase economic returns
Langston University School of Agriculture and Applied Sciences’ Aquaculture Research team, in conjunction with Symbiotic Aquaponic LLC and M2M Nile Valley Aquaponics, held a virtual workshop titled, "Building Your Aquaponic Business: Empowering Aquaponic Producers in Building Revenue in the Industry.”
The event was held on Oct. 17, 2020, during the peak of the pandemic and was highly impactful for all participants. Workshop presentations included Business Basics of Aquaponics, State and Federal Regulations, Creating the Aquaponics Economy, Insect & Pest Management in Aquaponic Systems, Creating the Aquaponics Economy, and Economics of Aquaponics.
More than 60 producers from Oklahoma and others from around the world gained a wealth of new, reliable and actionable knowledge about numerous aspects of aquaponic technology and controlled environment crop production. Participants also experienced a virtual tour of a successful private aquaponics facility (Symbiotic Aquaponic LLC). The keynote presenter was Dre Taylor, prominent leader in innovative food systems and founder of the Nile Valley Aquaponics 100,000 pound food project in Kansas City, Missouri.
The workshop was supported by a U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s 1890 Land-Grant Capacity Building Grant. Dr. Yonathan Tilahun, principal project investigator and Extension specialist and research scientist (LU-CEOP & LU-AIGR), said, “The workshop was designed to inform aquaponic farmers about good business practices, federal/state regulations and improved aquaponic farming methods that will increase profitability and competitiveness in a rapidly growing and essential industry.”
For recording access to the workshop, contact Dr. Yonathan Tilahun at email@example.com.
Aquaculture: Getting through with demonstration and outreach
The Lincoln University aquaculture program is working to help Missouri meet its aquaculture potential by educating people about possible connections between producers and consumers. Missouri has good aquaculture potential, but almost all of its seafood is imported as frozen products. The LU aquaculture program uses its research to provide hands-on learning for college students, high school students and entrepreneurial farmers.
Through its participation in farmers markets, Lincoln increases its visibility to the public and makes connections with consumers, as well as allow student volunteers and entrepreneurs to develop an appreciation of what supplies and organization are needed to smoothly get fish to local markets.
The LU aquaculture program also uses aquatic pests and forage species from its ponds to start conversations that can lead to discussion of the aquaculture industry and Lincoln’s aquaculture program.
Former prison farm transforms into a character-building hydroponic garden
Voulynne Small knows that hydroponic gardening can lead to more than a bountiful harvest of fresh veggies. She has seen it grow good character and responsibility, healthy eating habits and community involvement.
“I was looking for something innovative to use for our mentoring program,” explained Small, who is executive director of the nonprofit Brothers Excelling with Self-sufficiency to Thrive (BEST). “I wanted them to get their hands into something, and agriculture seemed like a natural fit.”
When the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department stopped using the greenhouses at the Guilford County Prison Farm near Gibsonville several years ago, Small saw an opportunity for a new hands-on project. BEST uses Bible-based principles to mentor at-risk teens and young men from areas in Guilford County with high crime and poverty rates. In 2017, the organization applied for and received a grant of $56,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to launch the garden and purchase a work van.
Hydroponics involves growing crops without soil by using mineral nutrient solutions dissolved in water. Since Small had no experience with hydroponic gardening, USDA urged her to work with Cooperative Extension to launch the garden. She turned to Extension at A&T “because they are located right in my backyard and I’m an Aggie,” said Small, an A&T alumna. Kurt Taylor, at the time a 4-H agriscience associate, was quick to offer his assistance.
PVAMU CEP partnering with aquaponics guru to develop innovative programs
As we move toward the future of teaching our volunteers, this plays a huge part in our evolution and sustainability. In a major city like Houston with 2.1 million clients, we have collaborated with individuals to build capacity and bring forth a new generation of urban agriculture programming to reach our audiences.
Robert E. Harding is the founder of RST Bioscience and reportedly the first aquaponics teacher in the state of Texas. Pre-COVID, he took a hiatus from teaching. Harding created RST Bioscience to merge his scientific knowledge with his increasing interest in hydroponics and aquaponics cultivation. Upon returning to teaching, Harding used his knowledge of hydroponics and aquaponics to create engaging living classrooms for his PVAMU 4-H Club students at Attucks Middle School in Houston.
Harding said when asked why working with CEP is so important, “You all have the opportunity to heal wounds in our communities and advance our children to a higher level." As PVAMU Cooperative Extension Program’s Agriculture and Natural Resource unit gears up to launch the Small Farm Institute Urban Agriculture program, we plan to continue our work with his organization to educate farmers, youth and families on new sustainable agriculture technologies.
Changing the S.C.A.L.E. of urban food production
Dr. Marlin Ford, Urban Agriculture Specialist
The lack of access to healthy foods makes it difficult for families to eat well, fueling Louisiana’s growing obesity epidemic and severe health problems. Lack of food security and nutrition have wide-reaching implications for people and their environments, particularly in low and middle-income communities.
Food deserts have been defined as areas that lack access to affordable vegetables, whole grains, fruits and other food that make up the full range of a healthy diet. City and community agriculture promotes backyard, roof-top and balcony gardening, school gardening and citizen-based gardening in vacant lots and parks. Increasing the urban green infrastructure reduces exposure to harmful substances and conditions, provides an opportunity for recreation and physical activity, improves safety, promotes community identity and provides economic benefits to both the community and household.
By introducing the S.C.A.L.E. (Sustainable, Community, Agricultural, Learning, Environments) Program to Louisiana communities, the Southern University Agricultural Research and Extension Center created platforms to disseminate information, encourage the community to know where food comes from, alternative growing methods, ag tech and the promotion of economic development, and tourism.
They are further increasing access to healthy, affordable, fresh produce and providing communities with opportunities to learn about nutrition, food production and addressing the ecological, social and economic benefits of urban agriculture production.
Dr. William Sutton: Wetlands expert
At Tennessee State University, all things wild is commandeered by Dr. William Sutton.
The TSU professor specializes in environmental science and wildlife. He connects TSU students with state and city organizations like The Cumberland River Compact, the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere, the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and the U.S. Forest Service.
Sutton has a particular interest in endangered or threatened species of reptiles and amphibians such as the Eastern hellbender, the largest salamander in the U.S., and the Black pine snake, which is native to the Coastal Plain, including Georgia and Mississippi. The snake caught his eye while researching the longleaf pine and its impact on Alabama forest restoration. He is also considered TSU’s wetlands expert and most recently contributed to TSU’s wetlands cleanup for Earth Day.
“I would say our wetland is not the healthiest. That wetland is working pretty hard. It’s got runoff from nearby neighborhoods and livestock located adjacent to it,” Sutton said. “I advise students that if they put their hands in the water, they need to wash them afterward.”
Sutton was instrumental in creating the College of Agriculture’s relatively new master’s program for environmental sciences.
$3 million awarded to University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Aquaculture/Fisheries Department
A $3 million grant was awarded to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s Aquaculture/Fisheries Department by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service. The purpose of the grant is to provide a formal evaluation of the NRCS’s Agricultural Conservation Easement Program – Wetland Reserve Easements (ACEP-WRE) program.
Dr. Michael Eggleton is a professor of fisheries science in the UAPB Aquaculture/Fisheries Department and is principal investigator for the five-year grant. He said the ACEP-WRE program allows landowners to cost-share with NRCS in converting their marginal or retired farmlands back to native wetland and associated habitats.
Since 1995, NCRS has enrolled more than 14,000 easements under the ACEP-WRE program, totaling more than 2.7 million acres nationally, Eggleton said. However, there has been little attempt historically to formally assess or evaluate the ACEP-WRE program. It is important to quantify how much environmental or ecological improvement the wetlands actually provide, as well as how much economic benefit the program provides to landowners and society.
Andrew James, stewardship biologist for NRCS’s National Easement Program Stewardship, said, “We are confident the results of this research will reflect the quality of our wetland restoration and demonstrate the vital role that ACEP-WRE plays in meeting our nation’s wetland conservation goals.”
Extending knowledge in hydroponic farming
For more than a year now, Dr. Nadine Burton has set her sights on showing more farmers how to diversify their crops, as well as their production systems. An alternative crop specialist with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) Extension for less than four years now, she is excited about what increasingly popular high tunnel growing systems can mean to the farming community.
Farming is attracting younger people these days, Burton said, because of hydroponics, aeroponics and aquaponics – all soil-free, indoor production systems. For three years now, she has grown and harvested lettuce using a small hydroponics system in a high tunnel on the UMES Research and Education Farm for demonstration purposes. Soil-free, indoor farming is not new, she continued. Instead, many in the surrounding communities are implementing such systems quite successfully. There are many other farmers, especially underserved farmers, however, who will greatly benefit from using such systems.
“A farmer can literally make three times the money with less labor and less space required while working full time and using technology,” Burton said. “A small hydroponics system, for instance, holds 120 plants and can yield 60 to 90 pounds of lettuce per harvest.”
Burton is well-known in the community for cultivating specialty and ethnic crops like hibiscus, bok choy and callaloo among other things and for her hands-on approach in extending knowledge and changing lives.
Growing interest in hydroponics and aquaponics in Virginia
Chris Mullins educates local farmers about hydroponics and aquaponics, and he’s fishing for new ways to help them decide what systems will be cost effective for their operations and what crop and fish combinations grow best together. Hydroponics is growing plants in a nutrient solution without soil. Aquaponics combines hydroponics with aquaculture, growing fish.
A Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) horticulture specialist at Virginia State University (VSU), Mullins frequently gives workshops on these growing methods and fields questions about hydroponics and aquaponics from the general public, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when interest in soil-less growing increased.
“We have a lot of people that are interested in these two areas. We get calls from both hobbyists and homeowners interested in using these techniques, as well as larger farmers. They want some aspect of help from us, and we try to accommodate them and help them as much as we can," Mullins said.
Mary Ellen Taylor, known as “The Lettuce Lady,” owns Endless Summer Harvest in Purcellville, Virginia, where she grows lettuce, leafy greens and herbs. Taylor, who started the hydroponic operation 21 years ago with her husband, Wally, said they began as hobbyists while living in Maryland and purchased some small hydroponic systems that they placed around their swimming pool to learn the basics of water flow and about nutrients. They moved to Loudoun County and took their business to the commercial level.
Virginia Cooperative Extension extends the resources of Virginia's two land-grant universities, Virginia State University and Virginia Tech, to solve problems facing Virginians every day.
WVSU launches agricultural incubator in West Virginia
A collaborative Extension and research project at West Virginia State University (WVSU) led to the development of an agricultural incubator program in a rural southern West Virginia community that provided information and resources to more than 150 small farmers.
WVSU found that the southern region of the state had a lack of small farmers, and those who were attempting operations lacked knowledge about agricultural production and careers in the industry.
In response, WVSU developed the Creating an Agriculture Incubator for Education in Southern West Virginia Program, which aimed to develop an agricultural training incubator at a former Air National Guard Armory facility to address the needs of small and rural farmers in agricultural production methodologies (such as aquaponics and hydroponics), assessment of local market needs, farm safety planning, post-harvest handling and agricultural economic development.
Extension educators hosted workshops and trainings and provided technical assistance to help participants become successful in their new agricultural careers. Scientists at WVSU also conducted fish nutrition-based studies on site and correlated the fish nutrition studies with the growth of fish and plants in an attempt to establish an aquaponics pilot project that can be used as is, scaled up or integrated into existing systems for agricultural production.
The grant-funded program, which recently concluded, met the needs of 156 farmers in the region by providing workshops and trainings on agricultural practices, developing affordable aquaponics systems through the use of cost-effective materials, and by enabling staff to provide advice and resources to participating farmers.