Brightside: Spirulina Experiments

SALISBURY, Md. – Parkside High School horticulture production management students are learning to grow an ancient plant that just might be one of the ways to solve world hunger. “It creates a buzz, it creates some excitement for the students you know we’re not just sitting around at our desks doing worksheets,” says CTE Horticulture Instructor, Jerry Kelley.

As the population grows, so does the need to feed everyone. Well, a little algae plant could be part of the solution, and high school students are putting the theory to the test. “So what we’re doing here, we’re teaching them about spirulina, how to grow it what works, and the whole scientific process,” says Tom Cropper, a Phycologist with Pelaton Pharms.

Spirulina is a blue-green algae that’s turning into a growing business for agriculturalists. It has three times more protein than beef and chicken, the benefits of a full serving of fruits and vegetables, environmentally safe, river and bay friendly, and even carbon capturing. Cropper tells us, it’s a making huge waves in the farming industry. “As protein gets more expensive, beef, chicken, whatever, this becomes a better option.”

Cropper says he’s working with this algae in hopes of converting hazardous empty chicken houses into spirulina factories. By bringing a typically southern grown crop to the Eastern Shore, he’s getting young minds involved to experiment. “They’re growing their crops all year long and doing the best they can to have the best growth going on for their plans,” says Kelley.

Students at Parkside High school are getting hands-on experience with spirulina, learning to grow it, care for it, and passing their knowledge on to local growers. “My favorite part overall was putting it together, having to figure out what will work best,” says Allison Tribeck, a senior at Parkside High School. She adds, “It can help mostly to prevent world hunger things like that by you being able to get such a small concentrated dose and that can just be your nutrients for the day.”

Part of this ongoing experiment is a partnership with UMES extension, which imagined this program. Melinda Schwarz, a Food and Safety specialist with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Extension says, the work Parkside was already doing with horticulture was the perfect fit for this idea. “They can see how that applies to what they’re learning here and maybe they can go in that direction and help produce food for the growing population in the world,” says Schwarz.

Instructors and program coordinators say the work they’re doing now is building for the future, and will hopefully launch a broad spectrum of other research they can do next year. “It’s a great place to consider your future in the direction of agriculture and food science and horticulture and food production,” says Schwarz. Kelley adds, “The students get a sense that the community cares about what they’re doing and what they’re learning and that’s a great sense of satisfaction for them.”

Tribeck also tells us, that the experience with this revolutionary algae truly adds to not only her high school experience but taught her a life lesson too. “I came into horticulture and it was something I had to think about and I actually had to try in. It wasn’t just memorizing things or the lesson that I could forget after the test or in the next unit, that is what I like so much about it.” She adds, “Even if you think that it might sound a little crazy or weird, just go for it. It’s a lot of trial and error but if you fail the first time, just try again.”

Students and instructors at Parkside say they’re excited to keep experimenting and hope to learn more from this ancient algae.

Cropper says he’s also developing different recipes with the spirulina, which 47 ABC was invited to try.  On a national level, Cropper tells us that scientists are growing the algae to take to Mars eventually, so research for this is crucial.

Categories: Brightside, Local News, Maryland