Gifft Hill School and Island Green Living Association on Wednesday launched an “aquaponics” system at the school, an agricultural system that combines hydroponics – which is growing plants without soil – and aquaculture – raising fish.
Island Green Living sponsored the facility at the school. It is powered by solar technology and uses minimal outside resources, only requiring food for the fish, according to a release from Island Green Living. The fish then provide the nutrients to help the plants grow, and by taking the nutritional value from the waste matter of the fish, the plants clean the water for the fish to continue growing.
The idea is for students to use the facility to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics and also nutrition, connecting students with their food sources.
“Gifft Hill School is committed to the kind of technology that works especially well here in St. John, where both water and soil are limited. We are thankful for Island Green Living’s continued partnership in bringing this to fruition,” Head of School Ken Mills said in the release.
“We are grateful for Harith Wickrema’s generous donation, which made this program a reality. In addition, Island Green’s support and collaboration over the years, including composting, community service opportunities and an externship which will launch in January, are invaluable,” he said.
“Aquaponics is just the kind of experiential learning that makes Gifft Hill so special and the reason we sent my own daughter, Maya, to the school,” Island Green Vice President David DiGiacomo said.
Wickrema, president of Island Green, said the project is part of the group’s mission.
“We are dedicated to advancing food security through expansion of community, school and home gardening,” Wickrema said.
“It was Ken’s vision to engage students hands-on, including assembling the aquaponics system, which inspired our support of the project. The ultimate goal is to have the territory’s 15,000-plus students as ‘green ambassadors,’ encouraging families territory-wide to grow at least a few vegetables at home, which could contribute toward our goal of food security,” he said.
The crops harvested from the Gifft Hill School Aquaponics Sponsored by Island Green Living will be used in the school’s snack program and to supplement what is available to the St. John community.
Gifft Hill’s Environmental Science class, offered to 11th and 12th-grade students, will take the lead in growing and maintaining the aquaponics system, but students in both middle school and upper school helped build it. Teachers and students across both the middle and upper schools will have access to the aquaponics systems, and it will become a valuable piece of Gifft Hill School’s experiential learning curriculum.
The school and Island Green Living say aquaponics is a great way to teach nutrient cycles and an ideal entree into multiple scientific disciplines including botany, chemistry, engineering and water dynamics. Mills and Jennifer Sampsell, the science teacher, will be leading the classes using the system.
There are two types of growing options, vining plants such as tomatoes, cucumbers and squash, and deep well culture plants that typically include leafy greens. Gifft Hill is selecting plants that complement the crops that are currently grown on campus to expand the produce offered. The fish in the aquaponics system at Gifft Hill will be Blue Nile Tilapia. These fish were chosen because they are hearty and tolerant of changes to water temperature and water chemistry like varying oxygen levels. They also are fast growing which will help get the system up and running quickly.