Hoping to maximize the amount of fruits and vegetables grown on campus while also sparking conversation and interest in sustainable food production, three HWS students recently constructed a pilot aquaponics system. As part of HWS Earth Week, the soilless agriculture system will be introduced at an open house titled “Food without Dirt: An Introduction to Aquaponics” on Thursday, April 21, at 4 p.m. in the Environmental Studies House at 451 Pulteney Street.
“Having an operational aquaponics system on the HWS campus provides us with the opportunity to further connect our students, faculty and staff with the community members concerned with food issues,” says Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Robin Lewis, who is overseeing the project.
The April 21 event will offer an opportunity to learn about the history, science and applications of aquaponics, as well as experience what it is like to maintain and operate the system.
As an independent study project, Rachael Best ’18, Jeffrey Rizza ’16, MAT ’17 and Katie Rogan ’17 worked throughout the semester to construct the system, which is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). Aquaponics, a year-round, sustainable farming method, uses less water, energy and soil than traditional farming.
“It is an incredibly rewarding project to take on because of the remarkable transition the whole system makes,” says Rogan, a biology major. The system is currently being used to grow kale, lettuce, parsley and basil, and is a pilot for assessing the viability of larger scale aquaponics systems on the HWS campus and in the Geneva community.
“We hope that a larger system will be able to supply a significant portion of our vegetable and herb consumption here at HWS, and this type of ‘hyper-local’ sourcing would give us food that is more nutritious, tastier and environmentally responsible,” explains Rizza, a physics and environmental studies double major who won this year’s Stu Lieblein ‘90 Pitch Contest with his idea for an energy-efficient greenhouse that combines vertical growing techniques with aquaponics.
The group also envisions using the system as an educational tool for both HWS and Geneva community members. Rogan says the aquaponics system will facilitate conversations on “how to combat food deserts as well as how urban agriculture may be improved as a whole.”
The project is funded through grants from the Carver and DeLaney Family Environmental Studies Endowment and the Kloman Fellowship Fund, with additional support provided by the Environmental Studies Program and Sustainable Community Development Program.