Since that time, the old school field at 2 Bulldog Drive has seen dozens of volunteers come to help the farm, which grows seafood and vegetables together for maximum nutrition and efficiency, to get up and running and to establish a name for itself in the community.
In just five months, Inner-City Aquaponics and its owner, Ryan Cox, have already partnered with numerous schools in and around the Rossville area and are now in the process of adding a new $80,000 installation.
Students from Ridgeland High School’s Future Farmers of America club got out of classes for the afternoon to help celebrate at the farm, where many will be working and volunteering over the course of the year. Cox has established programs with Ridgeland High and other area schools to grow worms, vegetables and produce in a cooperative effort, which he hopes will provide job training for students' future careers in agriculture.
“You’ll have a premiere aquaculture program unlike any other in the country,” Cox told the students.
The high-schoolers toured the site of a future 5,000-gallon catfish hatchery, which Cox pledged to start excavating the very next day. The 250-foot-by-20-foot tank will be used exclusively for the breeding of catfish and will be seeded with 36 breeding pairs.
Students from partner schools will use the catfish eggs and hatchlings in their own academic and aquaponic programs. The more mature fish will be gathered by the students and enjoyed for supper, or returned to the farm to grow out in one of the aquaponic vegetable-producing tanks.
“This time next year, they will have already been harvested,” Cox said of the hundreds of catfish he expects the hatchery to produce. He also has plans to expand and add tanks for prawns and shrimp next summer, once the catfish are well-established. Five to ten new jobs are expected to be created by the expansion, most of which will likely be held by students in the cooperative programs.
The catfish hatchery is an$80,000 investment for Cox, who is fronting the entire bill for the project with no aid from local city or county governments.
Cox seems most excited about the opportunity to work with the next generation's potential leaders in the local food industry. He hopes to inspire them to be passionate about aquaculture and agriculture, and to have a hands-on experience with the source of their own nutrition.
Cox echoed 16-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau by stating to the assembled local leaders, teachers, students and families, “It is not our job to teach our children the sciences. It is our job to give them a taste of them.”