The Aquaponics Greenhouse Project
Urban Vision has an exciting new project: one that's both a teaching tool to help our students learn about running a business, and a means to provide healthy, affordable food for our community.
Last Fall, Urban Vision began constructing an Aquaponics greenhouse in our South yard (setup was made possible by a specially-directed gift). Everything is now complete, and for the past eight weeks we have been experimenting with planting and growing produce!
In the video below, Rodney Matthews talks with Jon Hallstein about UV's plans for the project:
1. Teach teen leaders how to run a business. The students in UV's Teen Leadership program will be using the Greenhouse facility as a business venture point, both doing maintenance and selling the vegetation - some to Urban Vision, and some to the community. They'll rotate through positions in the various aspects -- gardening, recording, marketing, sales, finance, etc. -- to get a full picture of what it takes to run an ethical business.
2. Provide healthy food for our community. Usually the cheapest and most available food is the most unhealthy and chemically-altered. We want our community to have healthy, fresh options at reasonable costs. As we grow food here -- peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, strawberries, spinach -- we choose produce that children and families both need and can enjoy, where they would not have had the option before.
What is Aquaponics?
Aquaponics is a sustainable gardening system that combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals like fish) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) to create a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) environment.
Our greenhouse runs on this kind of system. We have two tanks of fish. Their waste (full of nutrients for growing plants) goes into the tanks' water, which is pumped into growing beds lined with small rocks instead of dirt. The rocks filter the nutrients out of the water, where the seeds planted in the beds absorb them and grow. The water recycles out of the beds and back into the fish tanks, giving fresh, oxygenated water back to the fish.
The process is all natural! There are no chemicals or additives, and it's nearly maintenance-free. Once set up, it's very simple to run: feed the fish, plant the seeds, and harvest produce as it grows. Even the waste from harvested plants goes into a compost pile, where we grow worms to feed the fish, and create more fertilizer for the plants.
While traditional greenhouses have to keep the entire environment at a balmy temperature, aquaponics systems focus on warm water instead of warm air. A hot-water line from UV's boiler coils around the fish tanks to keep the fish and water warm-- the water, because it will heat the plant beds as it cycles through the system, and the fish, because if they get too cold they hibernate, and neither eat nor produce waste to feed the plants.
Vision for the Future:
This is only Phase 1 of what this greenhouse facility could become! First we want to be sure of success in its goals: teaching our Teen Leaders how to do business, and providing enough produce to satisfy demands in our community. But this system can expand on many levels.
The next phase in this type of facility is planting more produce with the roots dangling in water pipes, allowing the roots to soak up some nutrients before the water filters through the other beds below. We want to see how successful we are with what we have first, however, and get settled into the business before we try to expand.