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GTA’s Qquaponics Class

July 12, 2012

Grand Traverse Academy’s Aquaponics Class engineered their own symbiotic growing systems. Super cool! Check out the article below (published in Families First Monthly in 2010) to learn more fascinating facts!



As a fresh, favorable outlook on local food sprouts again in the American culture, many school systems around the state are embracing the importance of agriculture and incorporating it into their curriculum.  From chefs in the cafeteria-kitchens to grants supporting sustainability, there is a groundbreaking food-movement taking root in education.

An active advocate behind this crusade is Cedar Sol Hydro Farm, a local business run by Michael and Nichole McHugh. The couple own and operate an outdoor, vertical-hydroponic farm in Cedar, Michigan. Aside from supplying their community with healthy fruits and vegetables, Cedar Sol aims to broadcast the benefits of hydroponics.

“There are numerous advantages to growing hydroponically. It is a common misconception that hydroponics is used only for growing micro greens or tomatoes in ‘hot houses,’” Michael explains.  “Hydroponic farming allows people without land to grow high-quality produce. It also allows us to get out of the confines that have lead to pesticide misuse and the severe overdraw of freshwater reservoirs.”

Both former teachers, Nichole and Michael recognize schools as an ideal facility to educate people on sustainable ways of producing food year-round.  Cedar Sol has traveled the state not only to install Hydro-Stacker growing systems in classrooms and school gardens, but also to consult with students and staff on the fundamentals of hydroponics.

“Incorporating agriculture into school’s curriculums allows for a myriad of learning opportunities,” Nichole notes. “Students appreciate first-hand the responsibilities, the rewards and the calamities of raising food. They also have the opportunity to create, construct, calculate, document, debate, and analyze.”

“Growing hydroponically gives students the feeling of having control,” Michael adds. Anyone who wants to have a garden can have a garden. All you really need to get started is a community school that supports agriculture and perhaps a science teacher who is daring enough to build a greenhouse and away you go.”

One teacher who has done just that is Grand Traverse Academy’s (GTA) high school science teacher, Matt Drost.  Inspired by the Grand Traverse Stewardship Organization (a local program that funds projects for water and watersheds) and with GTA’s support, Drost designed an integrative agriculture elective course.  During the six-week course Drost and his students had built a greenhouse as well as constructed a working aquaponic system.

“The students were so engaged I even received enthusiastic letters from parents,” Drost disclosed. “The kids especially enjoyed designing the aquaponic system, which is the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals. We used a 30-gallon aquarium tank for the fish and Cedar Sol’s Hydro-Stacker growing system for the plants. The students engineered the system so that the water cycled through the plants and back into the tank.”

After receiving permission from the DNR, Drost took his class on a field trip to a neighboring pond to catch bluegills and sunfish for the tank. “It was awesome to see these high school kids, some who had never caught a fish before, fishing for bluegills for their school’s small-scale, self-sustaingin eco-system,” continues Drost. “In the future we hope to raise the fish for stocking or consumption and the plants for donation or the Farm to School program.”

Aside from raising food and awareness, agriculture in schools can also raise money, according to Cedar Sol. The Edison Environmental Science Academy in Kalamazoo, Michigan added one of Cedar Sol’s four-stacker growing systems to their functioning greenhouse.  “The students at Edison Academy sell the produce they grow to a local restaurant.  Not only are the students directly involved with gardening, but they are also learning business and time management skills,” Michael explains.

Woodward School for Technology and Research, also in Kalamazoo, invited Cedar Sol to deliver a four-Stacker system to their school as well as teach the third grade classes the process of growing hydroponically. “The children were fascinated with the demonstration. We measured out how much land space would be needed for the 80 plants that could be grown in their system.  We assembled a single stacker. We mixed nutrient. We installed a pump.  We even calculated how much water the plants are given a day.”

One Hydro-Stacker, which holds 20 plants in a 1×1 square foot area, is fed approximately one quart of water, three times a day.  “Hydroponics takes the agricultural revolution to the next step. It is practical, controlled and efficient,” Michael summarizes.

“It’s time to start diversifying the way we raise food. We need to conserve our resources and demand healthy, nutritious fare,” Nichole comments.  “Why not start in the schools?

If you mix the ingenuity and determination of the youth with agriculture-design, it just might shake things up a bit.”

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