Feature
Growing Power: SFCC Sustainable Agriculture Blooms “Coming

Student Moustapha Idrissa wants to bring back sustainable practices to his native Niger.

Spring in Northern New Mexico heralds new growth. Mayordomos in villages will oversee the release of water into the acequias that flow into farms. Water is valued, even more precious in years of drought. Many of SFCC’s programs reflect those rich, traditional rural cultural values of food production with sustainable water use practices.

“The college emphasizes sustainability through our practices on campus, our academic offerings and our outreach efforts,” said Camilla Bustamante, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Trades, Advanced Technologies and Sustainability. “Partnerships on campus and in the community align with our sustainability goals.”

A partnership to revitalize the Culinary Arts Garden was forged  after Chef-Instructors Patrick Mares and Jerry Dakan met with instructor Beth Roop of The MASTERS Program, the Early College Charter High School based on campus. Roop credits SFCC’s Charlie Shultz, Lead Faculty for Controlled  Environment Agriculture, with getting the initiative rolling. The MASTERS Program students take SFCC’s dual credit class in Greenhouse Operation and Management on Friday mornings, and then roll up their sleeves to work in the Culinary Arts Garden in the afternoon.

“Working in the Culinary Arts Garden is part of our service learning mission. Plus, The MASTERS Program students earn credits toward an associate degree,” Roop said. “Although only a few students have ever gardened, since they are assigned individual raised beds to cultivate and tend they are able to take real ownership.” Students are raising herbs, radishes, carrots, sugar peas, celery and bell peppers. Much of the produce from the Culinary Arts Garden is used in the student-run East Wing Eatery and the Culinary Arts labs.

“The MASTERS Program students see hydroponics and aquaponics as the wave of the future,” Roop added. Growing with soilless, closed-loop systems in a controlled environment uses about a tenth of the water required for traditional soil-based production. The college’s new 12,000 square-foot greenhouse is expected to be fully operational later this year. It features a smart microgrid system supported by a U.S. Economic Development Administration grant and state funds, along with technical expertise and equipment donated by Siemens Industries.

SFCC’s new greenhouse will provide students with
cutting-edge facilities and tools that they need to succeed

“We’re extremely excited about the new greenhouse,” said Shultz. “This will allow students to further grow their skills.” In addition to using state-of-the-art equipment, students are learning from industry leaders. Shultz is an internationally recognized pioneer in the field of integrating the production of fish and plants. Last year, when the devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico wiped out one of the aquaponics operations run by global leader Pedro Casas, Shultz saw the opportunity to help Casas and the college by encouraging him to teach at SFCC. With support from the Santa Fe Garden Club, Casas is teaching a new design-and-build class in which students gain valuable hands-on experience building their own systems. “This is a terrific opportunity for me and my family,” Casas said. “I love working with the students.”

Food self-sufficiency is a goal for many students. For Moustapha Idrissa, who works part time in the greenhouses, studying at SFCC is a dream come true. Now a U.S. citizen, the Niger native wants to eventually take back what he has learned to his homeland. “Where I grew up, during the cool season you could get tomatoes for a reasonable price. But during the warm season and the monsoons, tomatoes were ten times more expensive. The people in Africa love tomatoes, so I wanted to learn how I could grow them year-round in a controlled environment.”

In his 20s, Idrissa lived mainly in the Washington, D.C. area where he worked in restaurants and drove taxis, but always kept the dream of learning how to operate a greenhouse. When he heard about a part-time internship with a greenhouse operator in Alcalde, New Mexico, he packed up his car with his pregnant wife and young son to drive across the country. He wanted to learn more, so he enrolled at SFCC. In addition to earning a certificate in Controlled Environment Agriculture, he’s pursuing a certificate in Water Treatment. He also is exploring ways to operate a food cart in Santa Fe that would serve West African-inspired cuisine. “Coming to the college has changed my life,” he adds. “I just love learning more every day.”

SFCC partners with industries to test equipment and systems:

  • The Farm Pod is a shipping container that has been converted to raise fish on the first level and crops on the upper level. The crops are nourished with recycled, filtered water from the fish tanks below. The sponsoring company pays for a student position.
  • Aqua Grove donated aquaponics equipment for students to beta-test and troubleshoot.
  • Freight Spaces, LLC, provides a shipping container used for hydroponics as well as a paid internship for an SFCC student.