Aquaponics and Farming Education Proving to be Huge Benefit to High School Students

On a normal day in Brandy Starnes’ fourth block class, you can expect to see dedicated students working on projects and completing daily tasks. You can also expect to see an advanced aquaponics system, a thriving greenhouse, pregnant goats, and a donkey named Ollie. These unconventional classroom components may seem strange, but it’s just another Tuesday afternoon to the students of the Animal Science II class (AS II) at South Iredell High School.

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Students observing lettuce seedlings (photo credit: Drea Photo Artistry)

Brandy has worked with 100 Gardens to implement a state-of-the-art aquaponics system right outside of her classroom door in Troutman, North Carolina. Since its completion in August 2014, her students take inventory on the fish, analyze the water, and perform scheduled tests as part of the AS II curriculum. Along with livestock care and classroom assignments, this course focuses on the importance of sustainable living in the modern world.

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All water quality testing is performed by students (photo credit: Drea Photo Artistry)

“The students learn leadership skills, life skills, and how to lead a sustainable lifestyle,” Brandy explains while giving a tour of the greenhouse. Four girls from the AS II class follow, excited to demonstrate their knowledge about both aquaponics and agriculture. Nadia Punt, a junior, points to the bright leafy plants by the wall. “The lettuce we grow is so good,” she says. “It’s the only lettuce I eat now!” Her classmate Kaley Anderson is more excited about the tomatoes, which sprouted up over winter break. They have also grown herbs for culinary students to use in their cooking classes.

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Students netting catfish out of the fish tank

Around the corner, the girls check the aquaponics system, where the fish are separated into three tanks by weight. While Nadia pulls a net full of large catfish from one of the tanks, Megan discusses the classroom experience. “It’s unlike any other class at school, and I wouldn’t have learned nearly as much without the livestock and aquaponics system right here on campus.” She watches Nadia lower the net back into the tank. “And it’s so hands on!”

In order to take this coveted class, the girls had to complete Animal Science I, which focuses on the basics of farming, agriculture, and livestock. Along with a project focused on agricultural experience, each student can choose to join “Future Farmers of America” (FFA) and attend monthly meetings with other students and alumni of South Iredell.

Though the class is simply another course listing on their transcripts, the girls are vocal about the impact it has had on their lives. Nadia, who moved to Troutman, North Carolina during high school, found a sense of purpose. “When I moved here, I struggled to find where I fit in. It wasn’t until I signed up for agricultural courses that I really found my niche.” Kaley, who lives on a farm, has used the skills and lessons from AS II to help her own animals. The course has inspired her to follow her dream of becoming a veterinarian.

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Madison McNew, a junior, is excited to see the future of sustainable living unfold, while Megan has a more humorous take: “The opportunity is incredible. We garden our own produce, we measure the fish, we feed the animals. Sometimes the goats even eat papers from our backpacks!” Homework-eating goats aside, the work that Brandy and her students do each afternoon is an incredible step forward is sustainable agriculture, and 100 Gardens is proud to be a part of this life-changing class at South Iredell.

 

Haley Weaver

Students Surmount Huge Odds to Build Aquaponics Garden

This greenhouse in Charlotte, NC looks ordinary from the outside. However, its interior hosts the very future of sustainable agriculture: a state-of-the-art aquaponics system. This cutting-edge community garden represents far more than advances in farming technology. In fact, 100 Garden’s eighth aquaponics system represents the culmination of Myers Park High School students’ dream that took root in the school community and grew into something incredible. This is the Mustang Project.

Mustang Project students explaining the workings of the aquaponics system

Mustang Project students explaining the workings of the aquaponics system (Photo Credit: Drea Photo Artistry)

It started with a seed grant. After earning $4,000 to put towards seed purchases, senior Audrey and a few friends began an on-campus community garden, drawing in students from various grades with different interests. Stewart, a senior, remembers hearing about the garden from her biology teacher, while junior Julianna just wanted to get more involved on campus. By January 2015, the growing group had a lofty goal: to implement an aquaponics system right on their school grounds (including four 450 gallon fish tanks, a vortex filter, a degassing system, and 224 square-foot floating raft growing channels). which can cost up to $10,000—a huge number for a group of high school students with limited resources. Fortunately, this number didn’t intimidate them. Instead, it fueled the fire in their fight. With guidance from 100 Gardens, the students set out to achieve their goal.

Mustang Project students giving a tour to teachers and community members

Mustang Project students giving a tour to teachers and community members  (Photo Credit: Drea Photo Artistry)

The students set out to meet their goal of $7,000 in just a month, asking for donations from family, friends, and big corporate sponsors. 100 Gardens provided 3-D modules of aquaponics systems so that potential sponsors could gain a better understanding of the project. Donations rolled in quickly during the first week but then stopped. The students didn’t take this plateau in fundraising as a failure. They instead set up meetings with corporations. Myers Park senior Klaus remembers the enthusiastic atmosphere during their meeting with Duke Energy. When the company offered financial support, he and his classmates were thrilled. “That’s when I really thought we might be able to do this,” Klaus explained.

Mustang Project students putting the final touched on the aquaponics system before the ribbon cutting. (Photo Credit: Drea Photo Artistry)

Mustang Project students putting the final touched on the aquaponics system before the ribbon cutting. (Photo Credit: Drea Photo Artistry)

By the end of the month, the students had raised $20,000—more than double what they had hoped to earn. It was time to bring the community garden to life. The group spent weekends designing and constructing the gardens, thanks to tool and soil donations from Black Hawk Hardware and Home Depot as well as help from the greater Charlotte community. The Street Art Club created two murals to put behind the raised beds while art classes made paintings to string from wires around the gardens as the finishing touch on April 20, 2015. The aquaponics system—built by Sam Fleming and Monty Thompson of 100 Gardens—would soon follow in August.

Myers Park greenhouse before construction of aquaponics system (Photo Credit: 100 Gardens)

Myers Park greenhouse before construction of aquaponics system (Photo Credit: 100 Gardens)

At the opening ceremony, Myers Park students and The Mustang Project sponsors mingled, listened to speakers, and enjoyed the new addition to campus. Klaus felt particularly proud, saying, “ People told us there was no way we could raise that money, and we proved them wrong. We felt thankful for all of the support we received.”

Today, seventy percent of the harvest goes towards meals for students who qualify for free/reduced lunch. In addition, The Mustang Project is influencing the school’s curriculum by offering science students hands-on experience with a man-made ecosystem as well as inspiring paintings and poetry for art classes. Looking forward, the aquaponics system will play a key role in students understanding the future of sustainable food.

Midway through construction of the aquaponics system (Photo Credit: 100 Gardens)

Midway through construction of the aquaponics system (Photo Credit: 100 Gardens)

The group hopes that they can get even more of the community involved, starting with the adjacent Selwyn Elementary School. “You don’t have to love gardening to get involved,” Klaus says, “but you will see how meaningful and important the Mustang Project is if you do decide to donate or get hands-on.”

The Mustang Project proves that a seemingly impossible dream can come true when passion and hard work intersect. Luckily for Myers Park, the students behind the Mustang Project and the experts at 100 Gardens did just that, changing the school one plant at a time.

 

Haley Weaver

 

Stonewall Jackson YDC Horticulture Program Featured on NC Dept. of Public Safety Newsletter (Jan 2015)

ncdpsCONCORD | Produce grown by students at Stonewall Jackson Youth Development Center is helping to feed the homebound of Cabarrus County. A special partnership to donate the vegetables grown as part of the youth development center’s horticulture program sprouted in October between Cabarrus County Meals on Wheels, the youth development center and 100 Gardens LLC, a Charlotte-based initiative working to connect the area community to struggling communities in Haiti. Sam Fleming from 100 Gardens modeled this partnership upon a similar collaboration in Charlotte between Friendship Trays and Friendship Gardens….read more

Newest Aquaponics Lab! “Garden 6” Underway at Adventist Christian Academy

We are proud to partner with Adventist Christian Academy in Charlotte, NC to build the latest Aquaponics Lab (Garden 6/100). The Lab will include a greenhouse with aquaponics and hydroponics systems for STEM learning opportunities. Solar panels will power pumps, fans and accessories, a true display of education through sustainable practices. Below are some words from ACA Principal Fred Armstrong:

“Charlotte’s Adventist Christian Academy is excited about partnering with 100 Gardens this year as we move our educational program to match the goals of the S.T.E.M. initiative.  We are looking for ways to create healthier, more ecologically conscious and higher thinking citizens for tomorrow’s world.  We also want our students to be involved with taking a role in helping our less fortunate neighbors in a practical and sustainable way, even at the earliest of elementary school grade levels.  The Aquaponics lab as designed and supported by 100 Gardens is a huge part of meeting these goals on our campus.  It’s ability to connect us with other learners both locally and internationally is taking our students educational experience way beyond the classroom.  100 Gardens’ is our connection to the future of education in 2015.”

Design for the Aquaponics lab at Adventist Christian Academy in Charlotte, NC

Design for the Aquaponics lab at Adventist Christian Academy in Charlotte, NC

Experiential Learning Through Aquaponics – Part 1 Garinger High School

The aquaponics operation at Garinger High School has begun! Students will be managing and operating the aquaponics system that will produce 180 servings of leafy greens per week and 300 lbs of catfish for by next may for Friendship Trays. The aquaponic system will also provide hands on learning opportunities for the students. Ongoing costs and additional maintenance is providing by Friendship Gardens.

The 100 Gardens Experiential Learning Development Team (Including teachers from Garinger, West Meck, CPCC and growing) is currently developing experiential learning activities that align NC essential standards with activities relating to aquaponics. This may include but is not limited to AP Environmental Science, Statistics, Functions and Advanced Modeling, World and US History, Visual and Graphic Arts, Culinary arts, Business and Marketing. This is an ongoing process and will evolve through collaboration.

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Students testing water quality parameters.

Today the AP Environmental Science class, led by Nemal Patel, tested an recorded critical water quality parameters, recorded the amount of fish feed administered, and seeded 250 lettuce plants. Over the course of the year, several classes will perform activities that relate to their specific standards.

The students are excited about growing food for those who need it the most, and are having a blast learning by doing. Stay tuned for updates…

South Iredell High School AquaLab Construction – Part 4

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Brake Winch for lowering and raising ZipGrow Towers. Note the water trickling into the catchment gutter. No splashing even from up at 7ft. 

The AquaLab construction is now complete! The winches have been mounted to raise and lower the ZipGrow Towers, the raft hydroponic units have been repainted and finished, aeration system is complete and all plumbing is finished.

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Completed Raft Hydroponic units

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2 Circular Aquaculture tanks with radial flow clarifier and filter tank.

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600 gallon fiberglass display tank with radial flow clarifier and filter tank.

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Catchment gutter for ZipGrow Towers complete

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Completed raft hydroponic unit. Notice the blue degassing tank on the left. This tank diffuses CO2 produced by the fish into the greenhouse atmosphere for increased plant performance.

South Iredell High School AquaLab Construction – Part 3

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The ZipGrow Vertical Hydroponic Towers are now hanging! We installed two horizontal steel supports to mount the top pulleys. These supports are also supported by a tension chain in the middle that attaches to the ceiling. These towers will grow leafy greens and will be able to be raised in the air to utilize the void space on the north wall, and be lowered to plant and harvest. We will mount a winch that raises and lowers the towers slowly and effortlessly.

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