Hydroponic fever strikes the Brac

Growing foods using hydroponic methods is one of the ways that Cayman Brac High School students are doing their part to support sustainable living in the Sister Islands.

Now, thanks to a Department of Agriculture-sponsored visit to the recent 22nd Annual Hydroponics & Organic Growers Conference in Orlando, the students are armed with new information and techniques to expand their own projects and to help inspire their community, states a GIS press release.

For the last six years the CBHS Science Department has run an award-winning after school agricultural club which explores both traditional and high-tech agricultural methods, including hydroponic or soil-less gardening. Originally established by Science teachers Mr. Clive Baker and Mr. Casso Ramoutar, the programme continues under the direction of Mr Baker and Ms. Sharon Austin. They supervise 25 students who take turns caring for the demonstration garden housed near the school grounds.

‘The educational objective of our club has been ‘to reach out and show modern agricultural practices to the wider community,’ and in light of the recent discussions regarding sustainable living in the Sister Islands, I see hydroponics and aquaponics (fish farming) projects as being potentially beneficial here,’ said Mr. Baker.

He explained that even with limited land space, hydroponics can yield high quality fresh vegetables in areas unsuitable for traditional farming and that residents who live in areas with poor soil can now grow food without soil, thus avoiding soil pests and obtaining high yield from small areas.

‘However, the greatest benefit is taste; crops are picked fresh and ripe, not imported under-ripe, forced or damaged,’ Mr. Baker said. ‘We hope that more local entrepreneurs will be inspired by our work and embrace it to make successful commercial ventures or that we will inspire residents to set up backyard projects to grow food for their families.’

Chief Agricultural and Veterinary Officer, Dr. Alfred Benjamin said the department was pleased that Cayman Brac High School Principal, Mrs Shirley Wahler agreed to send Mr. Baker and CBHS student Jonathon Scott to attend the Crop-King sponsored conference held in mid-November. ‘We thought this would be an excellent opportunity for the school, particularly as the conference was set up to accommodate both commercial and hobby growers. We sponsored Jonathan as he was nominated by the school as one of its best and most keen pupils in the agriculture project and he’ll give the whole group something to which they can aspire,’ said Dr. Benjamin.

Besides lectures and networking opportunities with other growers and professionals, the conference featured two field trips including a behind the scenes tour of Epcot’s high-tech hydroponics facility in the Earth Pavilion and a tour of a Bradenton, Florida strawberry producer who, by growing vertically, yields five acres of strawberries in just half an acre.

Mr. Baker said, ‘We learnt many things from the conference but one of the most notable techniques was to ‘go vertical’ in order to save space and reduce water loss.’

One CBHS student, Rusty Walton has already set up his own aquaculture/ hydroponics project, assisted by parents Jude and Laura. Mr. Baker noted, ‘The Waltons were inspired to set up their own system and it has proved very successful. They use the fish waste from their tank to fertilise their crops rather than growing from nutrient solutions. This is a fine example of efficient and sustainable production methods.’

Mr. Baker and his students have already made a presentation about the conference to a school assembly and will speak at a PTA meeting in the New Year. The Agriculture Club will also participate in the annual Science and Agriculture fairs, giving them a chance to highlight new techniques to the public. Mr. Baker said he will meet with the DOA on his next visit to Grand Cayman to discuss with the technical staff how they can continue to assist with the ongoing development of this project in the Sister Islands.

‘We are thankful to DOA for the many ways they’ve supported us in the last six years,’ he said. ‘Their experts, including High-Tech Agriculturalist Alexander Benn, are always available to answer questions and offer practical advice and they are keen to visit prospective growers and discuss plans.’

DOA Marketing Coordinator Brian Crichlow said: ‘The DOA has assisted CBHS with technical expertise, equipment donations and other support for a number of years and we’ll continue to encourage the youth of Cayman to get involved with agriculture, especially in high tech agricultural methods that can be more profitable and appealing to today’s young people over the traditional hoe and machete form of farming.’

‘We are always glad to accept any assistance – be it financial, material or advice. We would also love to expand our solar capability; at present we run our pumps on solar power using equipment provided by the DOA and we propose to try to build a wind turbine this year. We would appreciate a donation of large blocks of Styrofoam, even ceiling tiles, and also 4′ and 6′ PVC drain pipes. And again, shade cloth would come in handy, particularly when we are trying to convince ourselves to work outside during lunch hour.’

Meanwhile, Mr. Baker invites people to visit the school to see their project in action.


For more information contact the Cayman Brac High School at 948-2226 or go to www.italic.ky and follow the links to the school. For more information on hydroponics contact the Department of Agriculture at 947-3090.