On a normal day in Brandy Starnes’ fourth block class, you can expect to see dedicated students working on projects and completing daily tasks. You can also expect to see an advanced aquaponics system, a thriving greenhouse, pregnant goats, and a donkey named Ollie. These unconventional classroom components may seem strange, but it’s just another Tuesday afternoon to the students of the Animal Science II class (AS II) at South Iredell High School.
Brandy has worked with 100 Gardens to implement a state-of-the-art aquaponics system right outside of her classroom door in Troutman, North Carolina. Since its completion in August 2014, her students take inventory on the fish, analyze the water, and perform scheduled tests as part of the AS II curriculum. Along with livestock care and classroom assignments, this course focuses on the importance of sustainable living in the modern world.
“The students learn leadership skills, life skills, and how to lead a sustainable lifestyle,” Brandy explains while giving a tour of the greenhouse. Four girls from the AS II class follow, excited to demonstrate their knowledge about both aquaponics and agriculture. Nadia Punt, a junior, points to the bright leafy plants by the wall. “The lettuce we grow is so good,” she says. “It’s the only lettuce I eat now!” Her classmate Kaley Anderson is more excited about the tomatoes, which sprouted up over winter break. They have also grown herbs for culinary students to use in their cooking classes.
Around the corner, the girls check the aquaponics system, where the fish are separated into three tanks by weight. While Nadia pulls a net full of large catfish from one of the tanks, Megan discusses the classroom experience. “It’s unlike any other class at school, and I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much without the livestock and aquaponics system right here on campus.” She watches Nadia lower the net back into the tank. “And it’s so hands on!”
In order to take this coveted class, the girls had to complete Animal Science I, which focuses on the basics of farming, agriculture, and livestock. Along with a project focused on agricultural experience, each student can choose to join “Future Farmers of America” (FFA) and attend monthly meetings with other students and alumni of South Iredell.
Though the class is simply another course listing on their transcripts, the girls are vocal about the impact it has had on their lives. Nadia, who moved to Troutman, North Carolina during high school, found a sense of purpose. “When I moved here, I struggled to find where I fit in. It wasn’t until I signed up for agricultural courses that I really found my niche.” Kaley, who lives on a farm, has used the skills and lessons from AS II to help her own animals. The course has inspired her to follow her dream of becoming a veterinarian.
Madison McNew, a junior, is excited to see the future of sustainable living unfold, while Megan has a more humorous take: “The opportunity is incredible. We garden our own produce, we measure the fish, we feed the animals. Sometimes the goats even eat papers from our backpacks!” Homework-eating goats aside, the work that Brandy and her students do each afternoon is an incredible step forward is sustainable agriculture, and 100 Gardens is proud to be a part of this life-changing class at South Iredell.