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UHS Students Take Up Fish Farming

Education & academia

US - Ukiah High School's Agriculture Department is advancing local food production with a new fish farm on campus. The Ukiah High Aquaponics Project is designed to be 100 per cent sustainable, according to the project's designer and aquaponic expert Max Meyers.

"The idea is to create a system that benefits students with an educational model and a demonstration model, showing that food can be raised here in Ukiah, locally and sustainably year round," Mr Meyers, who has studied sustainable food systems in seven countries over the past 12 years, told the Ukiah Daily Journal.

The Aquaponics Project is a fish farm on the Ukiah High School campus. There a greenhouse maintains tropical-like heating necessary to produce fish like tilapia and prawns. Mr Meyers describes aquaponics as a "fusion" of aquaculture and hydroponic food systems.

"Aquaculture is raising fish, and hydroponics is growing crops without soil," he explained.

The greenhouse will have three tiers for growing lettuce greens above a large pool-like fish farm. Mr Meyers estimates the project will produce up to 1 pound of fish per gallon, twice a year, and the vegetables will grow up to five times faster than in the ground.

The process is so successful because of the symbiotic or mutually beneficial relationship between the fish and plant life.

"The fish water is pumped out to the vegetables; the vegetables feed off the nutrient source in the water thereby cleaning the water and then the clean water returns to the fish keeping them healthy," explained Mr Meyers, who is also working on an aquaponic project in Nicaragua.

A $12,000 grant from North Coast Opportunities (NCO) funds the project, for advancing local food production and creating local employment, according to Patty Bruder, the Director of Community Action at NCO.

"It has the opportunity to be a learning project as well as an entrepreneurial, hands-on project," she said. "It's a really exciting concept."

Students will eventually operate the farm under the tutelage of Mr Meyers. Youth will maintain records, monitor the health of the farm's ecosystem and the sustainability of the project.

"They'll keep data like water temperature, water quality, PH levels, plant growth, fish growth, prawn growth, things of that nature," he explained.

Mr Meyers describes his project as "farming with a modern twist." He's designing the project's state-of-the-art greenhouse to be 100 per cent sustainable, using solar heating and methane gas from the fish waste.

"All of the fish waste that accumulates at the bottom of the fish tanks will be drained out of the system and captured, and the captured fish waste will be used to generate methane gas we can use to heat the greenhouse and produce additional electricity," he said.

Although the greenhouse will be connected to Ukiah's power grid, Mr Meyers' vision is to use the power from the sun and the fish waste to keep the project pumping, creating a 100 per cent sustainable food system.

"This system is going to produce all of its own energy and grow all of its own food to get all the crops on site, while teaching and providing a revenue for the kids and the agriculture department," he said.