Jackie Carlson, Jefferson ag teacher, used a $1,500 grant from Monsanto to purchase a hydroponic system.
The hydroponic process begins with a 400-gallon water tank holding the fish. The water, filled with nutrients from fish waste, runs though a filter system removing solids from the water. The water travels to a trough housing the lettuce. The plants are suspended in the water, not in soil. The water then loops back into the fish tank.
The students started with 60 tilapia fish that came from Northwest Missouri State University. The fish were 1/2 inch in May and are now several inches long. The fish are carefully monitored and fed a measured amount of food twice daily.
“I like watching the fish grow. They were itty-bitty when we first got them,” Kayley Lager said.
Students learn about water treatment as they check the water’s pH and ammonia levels and adjust the chemicals. The water temperature is kept at 75 degrees, ideal for tilapia.
“It’s fun to come feed the fish and then to figure out how much chemical to put in the tank,” Nicholas Stoll said.
In April, when the fish are about 12 inches long, the students plan to harvest them and hold a community fish fry. Carlson hopes the fish fry proceeds will cover the expenses of the hydroponic system, making the project self sustainable.
“It’s a really neat program for kids to be a part of. They learn water quality, testing water quality and they see a new way to grow plants,” Carlson said.
In the future, Carlson would like to expand the program with a variety of fish and lettuce.