Fish and Food

Fish Waste Important to Aquaponics System That Grows Plants for Food

By Adrielle Griffin
Completely KIDS℠ Director of Marketing and Communications

May 26, 2016

If one were to walk into the main room of the CK 26 program at the Completely KIDS headquarters, she would meet Fancy, Monchez and Gerald.

This trio and their three fishy friends have an important job to do – eat and poop.

Before you chuckle, Fancy, Monchez, Gerald and friends are fish who provide the fertilizer for an aquaponics system.

Aquaponics is one method of urban farming, in which the waste produced by fish supply nutrients for a grow bed of plants, which then purify the water for the fish. It’s a win-win situation. Even more important is the education and produce it provides for children like those served by Completely KIDS. Many live in poverty and have limited access to nutritious food.

“We’re actually teaching kids how to grow their own food, which is extremely useful,” said Jackie Knobbe, CK 26 program coordinator. “Even though it’s indoors with the aquaponics system, it’s similar to growing their own food outdoors. I think they’re more likely to try new foods since they actually grow them.”

Aquaponics was recently introduced to Completely KIDS by Greg Fripp, founder and executive director of Whispering Roots, a local nonprofit that works with other area nonprofits and schools to educate youth in aquaponics, hydroponics and urban farming. Ultimately, Fripp’s goal is to “provide fresh, locally grown, healthy food” for food insecure children.

At CK 26, Knobbe developed Aquaponics Club, in which Fripp helped the kids build a structure for the grow bed. The kids started seeds in containers. Once they became established seedlings, Fripp helped them place clay beads in the grow bed, in which the plants take root.

For 14 hours a day, an automatic timer keeps light on the grow bed. Piping and a drain circulate water between the grow bed and the fish aquarium below the grow bed structure.

“We feed (the fish) fish food,” said Jackie Knobbe, CK 26 program coordinator. “They have a filtration system that constantly filters water from the grow bed into the aquarium, which keeps the fish waste going into the grow bed.”

When the plants are ready to be harvested, they pull out pretty easily, Knobbe said.

Currently, the kids are growing lettuce. But as the staff and kids become more comfortable with the system, the goal is to grow multiple plants, veggies and herbs that can be used by the Completely KIDS cook for the after-school food program.

Aquaponics Club, which is for third- through sixth-grade youth, has been quite a hit for the CK 26 kids.

“They all really enjoy it,” Knobbe said. “When (Greg) is here, it’s their favorite club. They love doing the planting, they love taking care of the fish. Even the little kids, they get to see (the aquarium) every day. Since it’s in the main room, they get to interact with the fish. They go and sit around it.”

With names like Fancy, Monchez and Gerald, one can tell how much the children adore these fish. And at the end of the day, the fish can feel satisfied in their own fish world about the important role they have in providing education and fighting childhood hunger.

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