Some of the students in Youngstown City School District's new aquaponics program admitted that initially they weren't comfortable with the concept of eating their class project.
"But that's changing," Nicholas King, 16, said. "You realize harvesting what you grow or raise is all part of the process. You have to look at it as an accomplishment."
Aquaponics - the cultivation of fish and vegetation in a closed ecosystem - is a new program at Choffin Career and Technical Center. Choffin is the first school in the state to offer aquaponics, Renee English, marketing coordinator, said.
Jaslyn Vega, 15, checks out the plants in the Tribune Chronicle / Virginia Shank
Aquaponics Building at the Choffin Career and Technical Center in Youngstown. The plants are part of the Youngstown City School District’s new aquaponics program.
Aquaponics, offered this year for the first time at Choffin, is a sustainable food production system that combines a traditional aquaculture with hydroponics in an enclosed ecosystem. In this case, Choffin students are raising tilapia while cultivating plants in water in an organic environment.
"It's kind of neat to watch the tilapia and the plants grow and realize you had a part in that," Jaslyn Vega, 15, said.
King said that the tilapia, which are small at first, live in tanks in the basement of the greenhouse at the school. The tanks are connected by a series of pipes and pumps to the vegetable garden beds upstairs where tomatoes and lettuce are grown. Waste from the fish fertilize the plant beds, and the plant beds filter the water that goes back into the tank.
"It's a great program because you use what you learn and it's something real," Kristen Bowman, 16, said. "You learn science, but you can also see how it applies to something right in front of you."
The students determine whether the water has the proper pH levels. They also check on the progress of the fish and plants.
King said the fish will be harvested when they reach 2 pounds.
Choffin students helped renovate the old greenhouse at Choffin, which has been vacant about five years, to prepare it for the aquaponics program.
Masonry students built the tanks. Commercial art students created the fish stickers that adorn the walls, and students in construction technology, heating, ventilation and air conditioning and home and building maintenance programs pitched in to ready the greenhouse, which is in a building across a parking lot from the main Choffin building.
English said the program will also enlist the help of culinary art students, who will help prepare the fish.
"Eventually our marketing and business students will also be involved," she said. "It really is a schoolwide project."
Youngstown City Schools teachers also volunteered their time over summer break to build fish tanks and greenhouses to create the enclosed ecosystem, which is 100 percent organic.
"The plan is to eventually raise tilapia and grow produce we can sell," King said. "It's been great because we've really learned about the whole process. It's nice to look at a project like this and be able to say that we raised the fish, we grew the vegetables. It's an accomplishment."