EcosySTEM Labs— The farms of the future don’t look much like red clay farms we’re used to seeing in Georgia. At Mason ES, students are exploring a new type of farming with three hydroponic systems called tower gardens and a number of zip towers that use aquaponics.
Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil, while aquaponics is the combination of hydroponics and aquaculture (fish farming). In the aquaponics zip towers, the two systems work together to form a symbiotic relationship. The waste from the fish gets pumped with the water to fertilize the plants, while the plants serve as a filter for the water to ensure it stays clean for the fish. The systems are indoors and are capable of growing produce year-round.
Assistant Principal Nick Boyers says the EcosySTEM Labs provide more than environmental education. “Students are reminded that their learning is bigger than just themselves,” he says. “Students are learning about global hunger, alternative farming methods, and issues in our community as well as worldwide.” The school works with a local church, donating the produce that the students grow for a weekly meal for community members in need. “The biggest academic piece is the engagement students have when they're in the labs,” says Mr. Boyers. “It enables teachers to tie in science, math, and literacy concepts in innovative ways. “
A $15,000 grant from Food Well Alliance funded the systems as well as training for teachers. Mason partnered with HATponics, a nonprofit dedicated to feeding people with “farms of the future.” The aquaponics systems— which use 90% less water than traditional soil farms and only a fraction of the electricity— were designed and built at MIT.
Mr. Boyers says that the labs have garnered great feedback from students, parents, and community members about the students being engaged and excited about the process. And that excitement has even extended to mealtime as kids says “yes” to new vegetables at home because they’d already given the lab-grown veggies a try at school.