Unlocking Hidden Farmers: Schools & Universities – Part 1


Unlocking Hidden Farmers: Part 1

1. Education

Hidden Farmers EducationIn the first installment of our “Hidden Potential Farmers” series we are taking an in-depth look at using educators and classrooms as farms of the future. From in class systems to greenhouse learning centers schools are producing their own food for themselves the students and the communities at large. In some instances they are even creating businesses and sustainable program funding through the sale of the produce off of the student farms. This is one of the most exciting potential groups of hidden farmers we look to unlock and the benefits go far beyond growing food.

For those of you who know us here in Connecticut, you may know we have been working with schools since day 1, through after school programs, adult-education, and of course, by installing aquaponics systems in classrooms for an evolved classroom experience.

So why are we so passionate about joining aquaponics and education?

As the saying goes, our children are our greatest natural resource.  Education is what ensures our children meet and exceed their potential for growth.  President Obama said in his state of the union address that, “We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.  A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond her circumstance.  Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives.”  The president spoke about how we need to offer these teachers the tools to create meaningful educational experiences for our students to inspire and enable every student to realize their full potential.  

At Trifecta Ecosystems we believe aquaponics is the meaningful teaching tool that the president was talking about that can help a good teacher become great.

How can we make such a bold statement?  Well, let’s look at the purpose of education. During the 19th and 20th century education, as the modern education system grew from random schoolhouses into the systematized behemoth we know today as the public school system.  Initially this provided many benefits as students were no longer trained by mothers or community members who had little resources and formal education themselves. Instead they were introduced to a structured class that had a curriculum and purpose to empower them to grow into successful and contributing adults. However over time as the school system grew and became more bureaucratic we began to simply train generation after generation of students to think in a silo’d and systematized way that was more conducive to life in a factory or corporate office than it was to developing creative and critical thinkers.  

In class workshop on water testing the aquaponics system.
In class workshop on water testing the aquaponics system.

Today the education landscape is rapidly changing and this institutionalized way of education seems to be heading out the door sooner rather than later. The rise of the internet has allowed children who previously felt unmotivated or uninspired in the classroom environment to take learning into their own hands and educate themselves in a manner more conducive to them. In addition we are seeing online learning platforms like khan academy, udemy, online universities and even sites like YouTube are creating a classroom anywhere there is an internet connection. This has allowed those with less time and resources to get the education they desire and deserve and is empowering more individuals than ever through the democratization of knowledge.

In addition, schools around the world are preparing for a leap into 21st century education.  Statements like the Presidents exhibit the shift in purpose for our educational system.  Today, a good school is geared towards preparing our children to meet the needs of today to make a better tomorrow.

One major part of this new mindset, especially for urban schools, is the need for urban food solutions.

The World Health Organization expects 70% of the world’s population to be urbanized in 10 years. Urban sprawl has replaced 40 million acres of farmland over the past 15 years (USDA Census, 2012) creating an alarming trend relating urban growth to food insecurity. According to the USDA 2012 Census, over 92.5% of U.S farms are classified as small to mid­sized farms, playing an important role in stabilizing the agricultural sector and Nation’s economy. Research (Storey, 2012; Sifola et Barbieri, 2006) shows that aquaponics outperforms traditional agriculture in production (+30%) and water sustainability (+90%) (New Zealand, 2013).  Aquaponics is clearly a viable option as part of a comprehensive, integrated urban food solution.

We know the world needs new farmers.  We know that the new farmers have to grow more using less.  Less land, less energy, less fossil fuels, and less labor.  The perfect solution doesn’t exist yet and that’s why introducing students to aquaponics early on is so important.  

Just like Apple created an entire generation of computer literate students by installing their computers into classrooms around the country, we are striving to bring the power of aquaponics to every classroom.  Imagine the innovation we could have in this industry if an entire generation was familiar and literate in aquaponics. It would be a complete gamechanger for humanity!

That is why we are working with educational experts and actual scientists to develop a full curriculum according to the Next Generation Science Standards.  These are the new guidelines for public school science classrooms that promote cross-cutting between subjects, grades, and even schools.  The NGSS are actually looking to incorporate practical and theoretical learning and break down the arbitrary barriers between subjects.

The NGSS curricula guidelines are the perfect fit for aquaponics as a teaching tool because it is able to teach to so many subjects. There are three core values or requirements of a curriculum that is NGSS compliant: it has to be cross-cutting, it has to be a combination of science and engineering, and it has to involve disciplinary core ideas.

To be cross cutting a curriculum must help students explore connections across the four domains of science, including Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering Design. Aquaponics is an engineered ecosystem in a container incorporating physics, biology, chemistry, engineering and yes it is being studied by NASA for its ability to grow food in space and other planets. Check that one off the list!

Unlocking Hidden Farmers with Trifecta Aquaponics EducationTo be a combination of science and engineering practices describe what scientists do to investigate the natural world and what engineers do to design and build systems. Students engage in practices to build, deepen, and apply their knowledge of core ideas and crosscutting concepts. With Aquaponics we are constantly asking our students to question the system, experiment with them, look for ways to improve, question what’s in front of them, and understand the why behind the natural processes at work in each unique system. Another check for aquaponics in the classroom!

Finally to be a study of disciplinary core ideas a curriculum students must explore key ideas in science that have broad importance within or across multiple science or engineering disciplines. These core ideas build on each other as students progress through grade levels and are grouped into the following four domains: Physical Science, Life Science, Earth and Space Science, and Engineering. Once again Aquaponics in the classroom is the perfect fit. Not only is it a great tool to introduce student to these concepts at an early age and get them engaged but each year they grow as a student we can use aquaponics to further understand these subjects by investigating further and further. Students in elementary school may not know what bacteria are at work in the system but they can still learn about the beneficial relationship between fish and plants. This progress can continue with them on their journey through school all the way to high school and beyond as students learn more and more about the biology and physics of the system and become competent enough to begin designing their own systems and innovations with a foundational understanding of the properties at work. Aquaponics can even continue with further education at the college and graduate level. There is no limit on the age aquaponics can inspire and engage students in classroom learning.

Hidden Farmers: Future farmers are in our education system todayA crafty teacher can use their system for lessons on biology, ecology, chemistry, physics, math, economics, business, health & nutrition, geology, engineering, and history.  This multi-subject cross-cutting allows the school to get maximum use for every dollar spent on their aquaponics program while the students get maximum use by learning multiple topics in a cohesive, interconnected way. Plus it’s inherently practical. Growing food is an invaluable skill, no more dealing with the age old question ‘how is this going to help me in real life?’.

With our educational curricula and in-class aquaponics systems, we are scaling our impact beyond ourselves.  We know we cannot grow all the world’s food ourselves, so we can help others to feed themselves, and if we’re really good, we can help them feed their communities too creating jobs, stability and food for themselves and others.

Who knows which student will cultivate her own green thumb at school and bring that interest home with her. To learn more about aquaponics in schools check out our aquaponics in education page and join our email list (just say hi in the chat box in the bottom right of the corner!) to stay up to date about innovation in the classroom using aquaponics.


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