- Associated Press - Sunday, June 10, 2018

WILLINGBORO, N.J. (AP) - Room 301 teems with life as students farm fish and grow pesticide-free vegetables without soil.

Willingboro High School students built an aquaponics system that relies on a 400-gallon tank filled with tilapia.

“The plants need the fish and the fish need the plants,” explained junior Tamia Davidson as she demonstrated how the system works.

Kale, Swiss chard, collard greens and mint plants grow with their roots suspended in water on tables connected to the tilapia tank. Fish waste is pumped into the water containers where the plant roots absorb the waste’s nutrients. This process filters the water, which gets pumped back into the tilapia tank.

“It goes in a cycle over and over again,” Davidson said.

The school’s aquaponics is a part of the state-sponsored Making Visions Possible program that supports and encourages youth development through different services. The program has been at the high school for 12 years and is supported by the Center for Family Guidance of Marlton.

According to Making Visions Possible director Gary Nelson, the aquaponics program caters to a variety of interests and skill-building.

“That’s the beauty of this program,” Nelson said. “You don’t have to necessarily be interested in farming.”

Besides growing crops, students learn to route and filter water, install light fixtures, care for fish, and more.

Davidson said the program makes school more enjoyable. “It’s something I look forward to other than books and pencils.”

Nelson has noticed the academic benefits of aquaponics on his students.

“You’re able to learn something in class and then literally see it here and understand more,” said junior Amatullah Ibnabdulkareem.

The lessons extend beyond the classroom, too.

“This program teaches you responsibility, self-control, how to take charge and teamwork,” said Davidson.

The program started a year ago in a student-built greenhouse. Severe storms ruined the greenhouse and put the project on hold.

Last fall, the school’s principal allowed students to build the system inside, attracting more student interest. Nelson watched as the program’s involvement jumped from five students to 30.

“We built most of the equipment here from scratch,” said Davidson.

The students take pride in their work, bringing some of their crops home to their families. Their produce also has been used in the school’s culinary arts program.

Enough crops can be grown to support 30 families, according to Nelson. “In the long run, I see this being a program that can provide a steady source of produce to the entire community,” he said.

Nelson and the students have a two-year plan to raise $50,000 to build another greenhouse with the capacity to serve about 200 families.

The program has applied for grants and students will also engage in fundraisers.

“This empowers students to take control of their school community to make it a positive community,” Nelson said. “They’re trying to make this a community-wide health and wellness program.”





This story has been corrected to show that the writer’s last name is Marnin, not Marmim.


Information from: Courier-Post (Cherry Hill, N.J.), http://www.courierpostonline.com/

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