SIS explores the world of Aquaponics

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Bob Yamnicky and Eric Wolf stand before the Aquaponic system they have set up in their SIS lab – Aaron Berkowitz photo

 From the classroom to the greenhouse

For Eric Wolf and Bob Yamnicky’s seventh and eighth grade science classes at Shelton Intermediate School, knowing what goes into the food they eat every day is important. So important that this year they have been exploring the world of growing their own vegetables through the use of aquaponics.

According to theaquaponicsource.com, the simplest definition for this innovative type of farming is the combination of aquaculture, the raising of fish, and hydroponics, the soil-less growing of plants, into one system.

The fish waste serves as an organic fertilizer for the growing plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water the fish live in.

Wolf said the idea to teach his classes about the alternative to traditional gardening stemmed from his own curiosity and theirs about exactly what ingredients go into their food.

 

“It’s definitely been a trial-and-error learning process for us all,” said Wolf. “I’ve done my own research and then when I teach that to the kids they take it a step further and ask questions. A lot of the time when they ask a question that I am unsure of myself, I tell them, ‘There’s only one way to find out,’ and we tweak things or experiment to find an answer.”

Wolf shows the growth of his class's plants before the next harvest. - Aaron Berkowitz photo

Wolf shows the growth of his class’s plants before the next harvest. – Aaron Berkowitz photo

Students periodically enjoy salads made up of vegetables they have played a part in growing, and Wolf said they very are proud of that. Wolf’s class has grown several types of lettuce as well as an aquaponic radish, which is currently their favorite.

Yamnicky said his classes are raising quail to help understand the full circle of farming. The class monitors the growth and hatching of the quail eggs while they remain in an incubator they have inside their lab, located conveniently close the school’s community garden.

“We take the waste from the quail and bury it in our community garden and it serves as a fertilizer,” said Yamnicky. “Come springtime when we turn the soil, the nutrients will be put back in here from a natural source. Any extra lettuce we grow we actually feed to the quail, so everything really comes full circle. It’s much better than handing out a sheet of paper that says, ‘Here is the food web.’ We are actually saying, ‘Here it is.’”

Wolf and Yamnicky said the hands-on learning experience for the students has proven to be extremely valuable.

“Obviously not everyone gets it, but a lot of them understand more than you would have expected and also take an interest in expanding on what we teach them. It’s really great to watch,” said Yamnicky.

Wolf said the students have actively been working on their winter gardening plan, primarily through the use of the greenhouse they constructed themselves, with some help from both Wolf and Yamnicky.

With responsibilities split up among 130 students, Wolf said, there is never a shortage of helping hands eager to get inside the greenhouse, partly because they also get to enjoy the vegetables they harvest.

Wolf said the class’s ultimate goal is to be able to provide food for the cafeteria.

“We haven’t made much progress toward that goal yet, but it still is a big goal for us,” said Wolf.

He added that he has a meeting with the school’s food provider, Sodexo, at the end of January.

“I’m hoping to have a solid plan in place following the meeting,” said Wolf.

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