Controlled-Environment Agriculture is the new moniker for the college’s expanding focus on sustainable farming techniques, including greenhouse management, aquaponics, hydroponics, and aquaculture, among others. The program’s newest addition is the recently donated Farm Pod, a converted shipping container for growing food, which sits just outside the Trades and Advanced Technology Center. Fish tanks on the lower level can produce up to 500 pounds of fish in six to eight months. Up top is a sophisticated greenhouse where vegetables, strawberries and herbs are grown in vertical towers using recycled, filtered water from the fish tanks below. Students can monitor and control the systems using classroom computers.
“It’s a terrific opportunity for our students to get hands-on experience,” faculty member Richard “Charlie” Shultz said. “Students are asked to test the limits of the Farm Pod, and then to publish or present the results. It’s quite high-tech and sophisticated, so our students face real-world challenges in troubleshooting and maintaining the systems.”
The Farm Pod operates completely off grid. Solar voltaic and solar thermal systems used to power and heat the system allow students to integrate skills with the Solar Energy program. Shultz envisions that this type of system would be ideal for restaurants and schools wanting to raise fish and fresh produce. He adds that Pueblo leaders have expressed interest in the potential for off-grid aquaponic food production. Come the fall, harvests from the Farm Pod will be used by students in the Culinary Arts Department and served at the student-run East Wing Eatery. Bon Appétit!