Mackay FFA members will have more opportunities to learn about Idaho fish once the new, $82,000 fish farm they and a group of volunteers built is ready to accept occupants in January.
Mackay FFA adviser Trent Van Leuven began collecting funds and recruiting help for the project in 2018. He and FFA State President Caleb Hampton, a Mackay High School senior, said they outgrew their former farm and wanted something more state of the art. Once it’s complete, Van Leuven said the high school fish farm will be the only one like it in the state. It’s unlike other fish farms because the 1,400-square-foot, cold-water farm will be certified disease-free. That means Mackay students can work with Forest Service and Idaho Fish and Game personnel to raise certain species of fish and release them into local bodies of water.
The new fish farm will have 16 tanks in the main room, five in the back and two for display. That’s enough for about 20,000 fish, according to Van Leuven. TVs connected to cameras in the display tanks will play a live feed in the hallway outside the main room.
Paramount to the project is the hard work put in by volunteers and FFA members, according to Van Leuven. To replace the old fish farm that was made of livestock feed tubes and a shower stall, Van Leuven and Hampton decided to build the new one themselves. Hampton said FFA members helped erect the building where the new fish farm will be located and converted the old farm into a tropical plant conservatory.
Two grants of $4,000 apiece also helped pay for the new facility. The grants were intended to allow the chapter to buy a new trailer. But Van Leuven said
“We told one of them we already got the trailer, and they said, ‘Well what else do you need?’” Van Leuven said.
Discussion turned to instead using the grant money to grow bananas, figs and pineapples, passion fruit and other types of produce in a new conservatory.
Van Leuven wanted the new fish farm and conservatory to expand educational opportunities for FFA members and agriculture students. Along with preparing them for jobs at fisheries and greenhouses, Van Leuven said the farm and conservatory “give the kids an opportunity to experience something they otherwise wouldn’t have. I mean, how many other chances in Idaho do you have to learn about passion fruit?”
As he walked through the welding shop and conservatory, Hampton expressed appreciation for Van Leuven’s approach. The Mackay program is smaller than most FFA chapters in Idaho, Hampton said. However, he said it’s one of the better programs when it comes to competitions in part because of Van Leuven’s desire to constantly improve the program.