The Fresher the Produce, The Fresher the Smile
by Ryan Moeggenberg
Ten lucky students at Pilot Butte Middle School (PBMS) are able to participate in the school’s Aquaponics Club. Science teacher Colleen Behrens supervises the students after school while they work on the system. Colleen likes this club, saying, “Kids think that plants need soil to grow,” and this shows them a different way.
The aquaponics system PBMS uses is now four years old. The school received grant money initially to fund the setup and Jimmy Sbarra, owner of Volcano Veggies, helped them acquire and assemble the system. Most aquaponic systems produce veggies and fish, but PBMS has opted to use goldfish in their system. They are heartier than most other species commonly used in aquaponics, and more tolerant of temp changes. During school breaks the temperature controls in the school are turned off, therefore the fish need to be able to handle the inevitable water temperature fluctuations.
The eighth graders that were in the club the previous year teach the seventh graders how to manage the system. They have assembled a binder full of instructions, and checklists including pages on Planting, Transferring from the Nursery to the Main System, Daily and Weekly Filter and Pump Maintenance and Water Chemistry Testing for
pH, Nitrates and Ammonia. Every day the students have an 11-step checklist for the aquaponics
system itself. There is another checklist for weekly planting, harvesting, transferring seedlings and backwashing the filter.
“For some of the students it makes the connection to where their food comes from,” Colleen said. Currently the Club is growing large beds of greens without the use of fertilizers or pesticides. They are able to take two cuttings from the lettuce plants before having to replant. The greens grow only using what is provided by the goldfish and the plants clean the water for the goldfish in a symbiotic system.
In previous years the club has grown basil and sold it as whole plants to raise funds, allowing them to buy more supplies. They now have teachers that make donations of $3 for a 6oz/gallon ziplock full of fresh lettuce. Being involved in programs like this show kids that farmers are scientists, and introduces the future of our people to the future of farming.
photos by HomeSpun Magazine