Food Science and Agriculture Center will prepare students to innovate solutions

Plymouth High School student Anton Pohl, left, and agriculture educator Walter Taylor check the roots of plants that are part of the school’s aquaponics system. — Submitted photo Plymouth High School student Anton Pohl, left, and agriculture educator Walter Taylor check the roots of plants that are part of the school’s aquaponics system. — Submitted photo The modern-day challenges facing the food and agriculture industries are rooted not in Plymouth but rather around the globe.

“One of the most important challenges facing the food and ag industries is to find ways to feed the exploding population and emerging middle class around the world,” said Jim Sartori, CEO of Sartori Co.

Jeff Gentine, executive vice president of Masters Gallery Foods, agreed. “Steady population growth around the world coupled with global climate change will continue to stress our entire food supply,” he said. “Projected shortfalls of crops such as wheat and corn will present challenges not only for human consumption, but also for animal feed.”

In order for the United States to be the leader in meeting this demand for food - one of our three basic needs - technological and scientific advancements in farming and the development of food products need to continue, said Louie Gentine, CEO of Sargento Foods Inc.

Long-term success means students must be exposed to careers in food-related industries, through initiatives such as the Food Science and Agriculture Center being planned for Plymouth High School.

“Educating students as to how the U.S. is in fact a leader in supplying food to the U.S. and global marketplace and how technology has allowed us to be in a position to supply safe and affordable food has to be a key contributor to our local and U.S. economy,” he said.

Sartori agreed. “The USA must continue to lead the world in technology and innovation,” he said. “We need our brightest and best people to be involved in agriculture and food in order to feed the world at competitive prices. The Food Science and Agriculture Center will be a step in this direction.”

New farming techniques being explored at the Food Science and Agriculture Center, such as hydroponics, aquaponics, vertical farming and others designed to increase crop yields without increasing land use, could go a long way toward offsetting some of the supply issues, Jeff Gentine noted.

Hydroponics is a method of producing plants and food crops in water and nutrients, explained Walter Taylor, PHS agriculture educator. Aquaculture is the practice of farming fish. “Combining the two farming methods creates a symbiotic relationship between the plants and fish. Both rely on each other to survive. The plants need the nutrients from the fish waste produced, and the fish need the plants to filter the water to decrease toxic levels of nutrients produced by their waste,” he said.

The resulting delicate balance is a never-ending mathematical and scientific experiment, Taylor said. “These methods of farming are not new; they date back to the Chinese dynasties. People learning in this center will be exposed to the history of agriculture, its advancements over the decades, and how learning is applied to real-life scenarios.”

The Food Science and Agriculture Center, which will feature a large greenhouse, also will allow food production in a region that is too cold to grow food outside half of the year, Taylor said. Greenhouses increasingly are being built in conjunction with sustainable energy systems, such as methane bio-digesters, which can avoid issues with waste runoff and odor.

The facility will serve as a regional data collection center to track the usage of water, heat use and production output. “Agribusiness leaders and investors will be able to analyze the data to make business decisions about when to invest in a digester system and erect a greenhouse to operate off that system,” Taylor said.

“Soon, you will see farms not only producing milk and meat products, but also plant products,” he added. “Our students and community members need to be ready for this industry as it evolves and be able to secure careers in this field to sustain the production infrastructures.”

Potential careers in the field include greenhouse operators, agricultural engineers, production analysts, sustainable production laborers, education careers, marketing, food scientists, business analysts, food processing, culinary careers and food engineering.

In addition to exposing high school students to career opportunities, the facility can also help train personnel already working in agriculture, Taylor noted.

“There is a niche for everyone in the agriculture industry,” he said. “Users of the Food Science and Agriculture Center will be inspired to find those niches and innovate agriculture into the future.”

Look for a donor form in The Review’s Xtras during the month of July, outlining how you can make a donation to support the Plymouth Education Foundation’s Capital Campaign to build the Food Science and Agriculture Center at Plymouth High School. Or, visit to learn more about the project including how to make a donation. If you make a donation before August 29, you can double your impact during the Community Match Challenge that has been issued by an anonymous Plymouth High School alumnus who is matching dollar for dollar donations up to $10,000.

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