High School Uses Science and Fish To Help Save Garden

A San Diego high school in danger of losing its garden because of the drought has, instead, created a sustainable living lab to grow fresh vegetables and fish.

After California's historic drought almost forced students at a San Diego high school to abandon their school garden, they've come up with a sustainable solution that involves fish.

It's called aquaponics, and it's helping students at Patrick Henry High School keep their garden, despite water restrictions imposed because of the drought.

"Our students were unable to water our plants, so our vegetable garden was left abandoned," said Lara Dickens, an Environmental Science teacher at Patrick Henry.

But then the school teamed up with the local non-profit ECOLIFE Conservation. The ECOGarden Program uses the science of aquaponics: raising fish and plants in a recirculating ecosystem. The fish waste acts as a natural fertilizer for the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. The organization says this uses 90 percent less water and land than traditional agricultural methods.

The students unveiled their new aquaponics garden this week.

"The once abandoned area was filled with passion and thrived with new life," said Aquaponics Educational Manager Kait Cole, "Students feel so moved by the project that they xeriscaped the garden beds and are building another aquaponics system next semester."

Several teachers and more than 100 Patrick Henry students have been involved in designing, engineering and building the school's aquaponics system.

"Because this was a student-led hands-on project, we were able to actually research some of these topics ourselves, like organic farming, like ecology, and actually make this project a reality," said Brenden Hawk.

Students have even created an Aquaponics Club.

"It's something that you can do anywhere and I just wanted to help share that with other people because sustainability relies on education to spread," said student Brianna Pinto.

Students and teachers say the project relates to many of their classes. Engineering students were involved with the mechanics, while biology students are interested in fish and plant cycles. There's even a connection the the high school's art classes.

"Because biology requires a lot of observations, I know we have the art teachers who want to come in and do drawings of the fish as the fish are developing and drawings of the plants," said Dickens.

"I feel like I finally got a chance to apply what I learned in school," said Jose Olea, "and because I'm a very hands-on learner, I feel like doing this gives me a great experience to learn every single detail about how it works and how to improve it in order to help others."

Senior Olivia Young is starting her own aquaponics garden in a University Heights as a way of providing fresh produce for low income families. 

Patrick Henry is the first of 15 schools to work with the non-profit on an aquaponics garden. The program is supported by the Kiwanis Club of San Diego, San Diego Kiwanis Club Foundation, and the Cox Cares Foundation. You can find out more about the non-profit at the organization's website.

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