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A tilapia farm is just the latest ecological project for students in the Granville school system

A tilapia farm is just the latest ecological project for students in the Granville school system

GRANVILLE, Ohio — When classes at Granville schools end for the day and the flurry of after-school commotion dies down, there’s one spot in the school district that continues to flutter with quiet activity.

Behind Granville High School is a different type of school: one that consists of about 130 finger-length, iridescent tilapia, swimming together in two large, black tanks within a greenhouse nestled between the school parking lots.

But these aren’t your typical class pets. If all goes according to plan, the tilapia will survive the winter and ultimately land as a delectable dish on students’ lunch trays come spring.

It’s just one aspect of the ecological haven that’s developed behind the high school, including a student garden and greenhouse. The two tanks holding the tilapia are part of an aquaponics system that lets water flow from one tank through several rows of fragrant basil plants, fertilizing with fish waste as it goes, before emptying into the second tank.

The most-recent project behind the school is a composting system developed by Granville senior Chris Carlson as both a school independent study and his Eagle Scout project. It’s not much too look at, said Carlson, 17, but it’s the system he hopes will heat the fish tanks through the winter and allow the fish to grow large enough to eat.

Within a stack of hay bales behind the greenhouse is compost material from the school cafeteria, topped with leaf litter from the village of Granville.

About 200 feet of 1-inch plastic piping spirals throughout the pile. As the compost material decomposes, it generates heat. The compost pile already has reached about 140 degrees, exceeding Carlson’s goal, he said. Water will then be pushed through the plastic piping from the bottom, heating up as it moves to the top of the compost pile, and finally, into the greenhouse to heat the tilapia tanks.

It’s not the district’s first attempt to raise the tropical fish, said Jim Reding, who teaches AP environmental science, ecology and other science classes at the high school. Last year’s fish population wasn’t able to handle the cold winter, which gave way to Carlson’s compost heating idea.

If successful, the tilapia will be yet another way Granville High School executive chef Jon Harbaugh uses food grown on site for meals in the cafeteria. He already uses produce and herbs grown in the student garden and greenhouse to make roasted Serrano and jalapeno pepper hot sauce, fresh pesto and other recipes.

When the cafeteria isn’t using foods grown in its backyard, it continues to use a lot of local products, Harbaugh said. The district started to use locally sourced foods about five years ago. Then, about 19 percent of the district’s food came from within 50 miles of Granville. Now that figure has grown to 32 percent, he said.

The district has seen a gradual increase in students participating in the school-lunch program since it started its local- and fresh-food initiatives, Harbaugh said.

On average, about 75 percent of students in the school district buy lunch more than once a week. More than 830 students attend the high school, and the district, which has about 2,400 students, serves meals to an average of 800 to 1,000 students daily, Harbaugh said.

“We’ve increased our local sustainability by introducing our kids to new local products,” Harbaugh said.

The switch to food harvested on-site or from local vendors has helped the cafeteria cut costs slightly, but more important, Harbaugh said, it allows the district to support the community by spending that money locally.

The district incorporates items such as bagels from Block’s bakery in Columbus and produce from Licking and Knox county farmers.

It all comes full circle when the waste from the cafeteria is added back into the compost pile. Having such a system is all about efficiency,” Carlson said.

“You’re using your waste from your cafeteria to come here and help grow the food that you then eat in your cafeteria,” he said. “What I hate seeing is a wasteful system where normally that’s just thrown away.”

Giving students the hands-on opportunity to create projects and tackle problems, big or small, makes a big impact, Redding said.

“It’s meant everything,” he said. “That makes all the difference in the world in terms of empowering these kids.”

As students sought grant money or community donations for some of their environmental-science projects, they’ve gained real-world skills of engaging others, selling their concepts and forming partnerships, said Granville Superintendent Jeff Brown.

“As much as we can empower our students to pursue their passion and connect their classroom learning to their local and global environments, we are creating a different type of learner that can go out into the world and truly have an impact,” he said.

Students can continue to build off each other’s ideas, Reding said. Heating soil in the greenhouse with the compost system, for example, can help students grow cold-sensitive seedlings in cooler months. One group of Reding’s students hopes to raise chickens, and the coops could be heated using the system as well, he said.

“That’s the beauty of this,” he said. “It just keeps snowballing.” jsmola@dispatch.com

BARBARA J. PERENIC DISPATCH Granville High School senior Chris Carlson is spearheading a project to raise tilapia in an aqua farm inside a school greenhouse.

BARBARA J. PERENIC DISPATCH Granville High School senior Chris Carlson is spearheading a project to raise tilapia in an aqua farm inside a school greenhouse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BARBARA J. PERENIC DISPATCH PHOTOS Compost is piled up outside the greenhouse in which tilapia are raised. Energy from decomposition will heat the fish tanks’ water.

BARBARA J. PERENIC DISPATCH PHOTOS Compost is piled up outside the greenhouse in which tilapia are raised. Energy from decomposition will heat the fish tanks’ water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A thermometer measures the temperature of the compost.

A thermometer measures the temperature of the compost.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Web

> To see Chris Carlson and his teacher talk about the Granville tilapia-greenhouse project, go to Dispatch.com/videos. LINK: http://dispatch.com/videos

 

Source: The Columbus Dispatch

By Jennifer Smola THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

LINK: http://digital.olivesoftware.com/olive/odn/columbusdispatch/shared/ShowArticle.aspx?doc=TCD%2F2015%2F11%2F09&entity=Ar01305&sk=60F8ADE7

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