HAGERMAN, Idaho — Hagerman High School’s Academy of Agriculture & Food Science (AAFS) has been selected as a partner-school in a USDA NIFA-funded research project to help sustain the commercial trout industry in the Hagerman Valley.

The partnership, one of several launched by the Academy this year, is giving students a career boost in the region’s fast-growing food industry.

University of Idaho Agricultural Education professor, Dr. Jeremy Falk, said that “the agriculture program at Hagerman is inspiring and offers students a chance to solve real-world problems.”

As part of the grant, Hagerman students are conducting research with the University of Idaho’s Research and Experiment Station in Hagerman. The station researches aquaculture practices to help produce safe and sustainable fish for consumption.

Hagerman’s FFA advisor, Dan Knapp, has learned after 20 years of teaching ag science that the best way to capture a student’s interest is “learning by doing.” These three words are part of the FFA motto “Learning to Do, Doing to Learn, Earning to Live, Living to Serve.”

“Too often we throw a book at a kid and ask them to read a hundred pages and are surprised when they are passed out and a pool of drool is amassing on the desk,” Knapp said. “Why not do it the other way around? Start with getting the kids’ hands dirty, weighing, catching, planting, dissecting, feeding and building, and then dive into finding answers to what they observed and how things work.”

The fish research partnership was formed with Eli Gough, hatchery manager at the University of Idaho Hagerman Fish Culture Experiment Station, to study plant protein and its effectiveness with rainbow trout. The feed trial consists of feeding plant protein and comparing trout growth with those that are fed fish meal. The trial results could help sustain the Hagerman trout industry, which supplies trout to restaurant menus worldwide.

Fish meal prices are skyrocketing due to the increasing challenges of ocean harvest needed to make fish meal. But it’s not easy getting a carnivore fish to like and eat plant-based fish food. The U of I staff are helping set up the Academy research and providing supplies.

The partnership is the second aquaculture collaboration with the Academy. Students also are working with burbot, a freshwater cod. These fish were provided by Leo Ray, owner of Fish Breeders of Idaho. Academy students will look at effective ways to raise burbot that are not native to Southern Idaho but naturally found in deep cold water that is often frozen over for long periods. Students are comparing the growth of burbot raised in daylight versus dark. Their goal is to help the local aquaculture industry develop best practices for sustainable burbot production.

The burbot project also will help local food scientist and Academy Food Science Instructor, Kirt Martin, in developing ways to process and prepare the fish for consumers. Martin, owner of Hagerman’s Snake River Grill restaurant, previously has worked with Fish Breeders of Idaho and University of Idaho. Snake River Grill offered burbot on its menu and asked diners for feedback. The survey provided valuable information for future product development. Martin’s focus is teaching students about safe food processing and preparation, as well as food packaging, design and marketing. (AAAF student presentation videos are available on YouTube at AAFS agfsci)

Martin sees Hagerman Valley as a regional center for food innovation and the Academy as a way to launch high school students into well-paying careers in the ag-food industry. “We need to prepare our students in all aspects of agriculture including, production, research, product development, processing and food safety,” he said.

Community networking has continued with another partnership between the Academy and a local retail ag supplier, Buhl Valley Store. Academy students are comparing feed efficiencies for baby chicks. Buhl Valley Store is donating feed and supplies. As part of the project, students will write a research paper and produce a poster explaining results for a new FFA Agriscience Fair contest. Winners compete at the state and national level to win awards, trips and scholarships.

Together these partnerships keep the Academy in tune with Southern Idaho’s ag and food processing employers who in turn support Academy programs with technical expertise and resources. Partnerships open doors to career opportunities for students who want to job shadow and/or gain work experience.

The Hagerman Academy of Agriculture & Food Science, established in 2018, is part of the Hagerman Joint School District 233 and supported by the Advanced Regional Technical Coalition, as well as private industry, businesses, and donors. The Academy is implementing an innovative combination of integrated programs and course work — linking food, fork and family — meant to prepare students for careers in food production, processing and research.

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