Trout was raised at Thimble Farm before arriving at high school. — Mark Lovewell

High school students yelped Tuesday morning as a six-inch rainbow trout flopped from a small hand net onto the back bumper of a truck, its glassy eyes swiveling and mouth gaping open and closed. Matthew Brown, an experienced aquaculturist from Island Grown Initiative's Thimble Farm, quickly picked up the stray fish and plopped it into a bucket along with nine other young trout, part of the farm’s delivery of 51 fish meant for the horticulture program’s unit on aquaculture.

This is the first year the class will raise rainbow trout in their hydroponics greenhouse. In the past, they’ve raised tilapia, freshwater hybrid bass, barramundi and freshwater shrimp. The rainbow trout had been growing at Island Grown Initiative's Thimble Farm.

The horticulture class is one of several career technical programs offered at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Under the instruction of John Wojtkielo, students care for a section of greenhouses situated near the athletics fields. This is the 17th year students have been able to study aquaculture at the high school.

Horticulture program director John Wojtkielo. — Mark Lovewell

As they prepared to move the trout to their new home, students filled buckets with a mix of water from the aquaculture tub in the greenhouse and the tank of water the fish had traveled in from Thimble Farm. They kept the fish in the buckets for five minutes before the students poured them into the large tub that would be their new home.

“We’ve got to acclimate them,” Mr. Wojtkielo explained to his students.

Water in the large round tub bubbled and churned next to tall, bright green pumpkin vines, dotted with yellow flowers. Sprouts of basil and lettuce were growing in long lines, rooted in rockwool, fed by a constant trickle of water originating from the fish tank. The hydroponics greenhouse at the high school has created a circulatory system of water supporting the fish and produce.

The rainbow trout are part of hydroponics program. — Mark Lovewell

“It’s a totally self-enclosed recirculating system,” said Mr. Wojtkielo. The water from the tank pumps through a filter that separates out solid waste, which is used as fertilizer in the soil green house. The filtered water is pumped through a hydroponic set up, feeding lettuce and basil sprouts. It then recirculates to the fish tank.

Students are responsible for checking the temperature, oxygen levels, and drum filter, keeping the tank filled, and feeding the fish.

When the trout are all grown in June, they will go on to educate another section of the career technical courses: the culinary arts students.