RAISING SHRIMP — Students in the Animal Sciences pathway at Arsenal Technical High School are raising 1,800 or so shrimp, which are housed in a 500-gallon fish tank in the basement of the school. It takes three to six months for them to reach maturity. This crop will be ready around the end of February.
If it seems like something fishy is going on with students in Arsenal Technical High School’s Animal Sciences pathway, it might be because they have seafood on their minds.
The students have taken up shrimp farming as their project for the year — raising, feeding and keeping the crustaceans and, eventually, selling them.
“It is a great example of indoor urban agriculture,” said Jennifer Berry, IPS’ Career and Technical Education (CTE) Pathway director. “This project represents an innovative approach to urban farming that is sustainable, environmental and profitable.”
The 1,800 or so shrimp are housed in a 500-gallon fish tank in the basement at Arsenal Tech for the three to six months required for them to reach maturity. This crop will be ready around the end of February.
Students use an aquaponics system, which offers a sustainable and healthful way of raising both fish and vegetables. Aquaponics incorporates many of nature’s natural cycles: nitrification, biology, fish anatomy and nutrition, and high-tech agriculture.
“Care of the aquaponics system helps students develop a sense of responsibility, inspires creativity and creates excitement in the learning environment,” said Berry.
In addition to biology, the project allows students to flex some of the knowledge they’ve gained from other core academic classes at Tech.
“There’s a lot of chemistry involved,” said Sonya Lord-Chamberlain, an agriculture instructor who has been a part of the program for 25 years. “The alkalinity levels must be correct, along with ammonia, pH and nitrogen levels. If any of them are off, they have to do research to find a solution.”
Entrepreneurship is also emphasized in the program as students will begin selling their shrimp to Arsenal Tech’s Culinary Academy and to the Woodstock Country Club on West 38th Street, which has a restaurant that sources local food.
Jordan F., a junior at Arsenal Tech who has been in the Life Science/Animal Science program for two years, actually works as a line cook at Woodstock Country Club.
“It’s been a really interesting experience being able to see the full life cycle of shrimp, from farm to plate,” said Jordan. “Mrs. Lord-Chamberlain has done a great job of keeping us busy on our urban farm. A day in the life of an Animal Sciences student consists of many chores, such as water-testing, feeding and maintaining ideal temperatures and conditions for the shrimp to gain weight.”
Before shrimp farming, however, students in the Animal Sciences pathway actually raised tilapia. But after touring a shrimp farm during a Future Farmers of America (FFA) convention in Lafayette, Ind., this past June, they requested to swap tilapia for their own shrimp farm.
After some research, Lord-Chamberlain said they found positive results that helped them decide to move forward with the program.
Shrimp are perfect because they’re bottom feeders that require very little maintenance. “They just require light and brine (which is salt water), and can be raised in a small space,” said Lord-Chamberlain.
“We wanted to show students how to grow and raise their own food and show it doesn’t have to be on a big scale. It can be turned into a sustainable business, and can be done in a very small space.”
Raising shrimp is not only sustainable but also an environmentally friendly business model for someone looking to grow the crustaceans in Indianapolis, where seafood production is scarce at best. Currently, more than two-thirds of the shrimp eaten in the U.S. is shipped from overseas via large shrimp processing facilities.
“In a Midwestern state that thrives through its agricultural economy, this is one more way for our students to explore a growing industry trend,” said Berry.
With students learning urban farming techniques, they are positioned to gain innovative, nontraditional job skills in an industry that is both emerging and filling a need locally.
Both Lord-Chamberlain and Berry see the shrimp farming project as a positive new addition to the Animal Sciences pathway, now in its 30th year at IPS. With bees and chickens also on the premises, the program already has supplies of animals for students to study up close. The shrimp program is one more offering, allowing students the opportunity to study a species that they hadn’t dealt with before.
Animal Sciences student Jasmin M., a senior at Arsenal Tech, said the program has grown tremendously since she started.
“When I first began my ag experience, we were only raising chickens and rabbits. Now, we are raising shrimp, harvesting honey from our very own bees, and still caring for our beloved chickens,” said Jasmin. “Every new addition has its benefits, but with the shrimp we have been able to gain the attention of students across campus, aid the classroom in being more interactive, and increase the fun factor all around.”
The Animal Sciences pathway fits within the agricultural career cluster, intended for students who have an interest in understanding where our food comes from. Through its mix of classroom, laboratory, fieldwork, and leadership development, students learn concepts of the field, work toward earning college credit, participate in FFA, and get exposed to career opportunities.
“Most of our students want to continue studying animals, pursuing college in preparation for careers like veterinary technician, veterinarian or animal nutritionist,” said Berry.