By Matt Jones
Students at New Jersey’s Willingboro High School have acquired the taste for aquaponics.
Gary Nelson, program director for the school’s Making Visions Possible department, says that the students designed and developed an aquaponic system themselves. The project was driven by the desire to source pesticide-free fruits and vegetables locally. Today they grow tilapia, lettuce, kale, Swiss chard and collard greens.
“There was a tremendous amount of trial and error,” says Nelson, who works with the students on the system. “We went through water leaks – we had about 70 tilapia in our 700-gallon stock tank and we came in one day and water was all over the place and the fish were hanging on by a thread. We were able to just save them.”
Nelson says the students faced the challenges head on, researching plant nutrition or different plumbing systems to solve them and improve the system overall. They are developing a business plan for a community food program to sell the produce and fish. Their goal is to raise funds for a solar-powered greenhouse to work in concert with the aquaponic system.
“To bring something like this to the school system is a big deal because it teaches way more than fish anatomy or even gardening. It incorporates so many different things that it can literally be any class you choose – it can be a math class, it can be a health class, it can be a science class. It’s multi-faceted,” says Nelson.