Gifft Hill School unveiled its new aquaponics system Tuesday afternoon, kicking off an Island Green Living Association-sponsored initiative to move toward food security in the Virgin Islands. IGLA President Harith Wickrema, who donated the aquaponics system to the St. John school, said he hopes the territory’s students become ambassadors by bringing home their newfound knowledge of agriculture and encouraging their families to grow their own foods.
Gifft Hill’s system was assembled by students with the help of Head of School Ken Mills, who said the aquaponics system fits in perfectly with the school’s mission of experiential learning. Tomatoes, lettuce, kale, and cucumbers will be grown initially, while tilapia are raised simultaneously in the aquaponics system. Tilapia are hardy fish that can tolerate potential issues that could arise as faculty and students learn to operate the system.
The crops and fish harvested from the aquaponics system will be used in the school’s snack program and to supplement what is available to the St. John community. The system will initially be managed by Jennifer Sampsell’s environmental science class.
“We fully expect virtually all of our science classes to engage with it in some way or another,” said Mills. “For example, physics classes could investigate water flow and pipe length and diameters to make the system more efficient. Humanities classes could find opportunities to be involved as well, and I could even imagine an art class documenting the growth of the plants through drawings. It’s meant to be an opportunity for many classes to engage.”
The school’s new aquaponics system will act as a complement to GHS’s Education and Resiliency Through Horticulture partnership with Iowa State University, which maintains gardens at Gifft Hill’s upper and lower campuses. Sampsell said she’s excited to learn about aquaponics alongside her students.
“We’ll learn about the nitrogen cycle which is really important when it comes to aquaponics, and we’ll talk about sustainable agriculture which ties in with learning about ecosystems,” she said. “It’s also something that can be tied in with earth science or chemistry. I’m still learning all the subjects I’ll be able to tie into the aquaponics system, and that’s the exciting part for me.”
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