Aquaponics Comes to St. Francis

By Christine Brinkmann, Garden Coordinatoraquaponics

This fall, we were generously given a 200-gallon fish tank.  The 5th graders will be using it in Debbie Adkins’ classroom to learn about aquaponics – the marriage of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in.

Around a thousand years ago, long before the term “aquaponics” was coined, the Aztec Indians raised plants on rafts on the surface of a lake..  In the 1970s, research on using plants as a natural filter began, most notably by Dr. James Rakocy at the University of the Virgin Islands.  The first large-scale commercial aquaponics facility, Bioshelters in Amherst, MA, was established in the mid-1980s, and it is still in operation today.  Home-based aquaponics owes its origin in the early 1990s to Tom and Paula Speraneo of S&S Aquafarms in West Plains, MO. The Speraneos diligently refined a media-bed growing technique that was more appropriate for smaller systems, and wrote a how-to manual that became a springboard for many home-based systems built throughout the world.

A component of the 5th grade science curriculum will be learning about life systems. They will be participating in the creation of an ecosystem that operates right before their eyes.  An aquaponics system can be used to demonstrate various principles of technology; plant life cycles and their structure; how to make effective use of recycled materials; low-tech/high-yield gardening; ecological issues; biology; chemistry; physics; and sustainable farming. The ‘starter’ fish are swimming around and we are all excited, especially the students – I am sure the fish have about five names each! It will be even more thrilling to see the students learn as we build this together!