Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change

by Perkin Educational Opportunities Foundation, Inc.
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
Aquaponics Solution to Climate Change
An overhead shot of our greenhouses
An overhead shot of our greenhouses

In the most recent project updates we have focused on the origins and progress of Amún Shéa's aquaponics program so--save for a short update on our second greenhouse--this report will detail the future of the program with a special focus on our goals, our hopes for the project, and what you can do to get involved. 

Our team of students have done a wonderful job with the second greenhouse which is now almost fully complete, just lacking the inner PVC pipes and planters as well as the crops themselves. In addition to an internal pond for shrimp farming, we now have an external tank (separate from the pond) for tilapia farming. Using tanks separate from the pond itself allows us a greater degree of control over the environment so hopes are high for successful and productive futures for both of these tanks. We anticipate that the greenhouse will be fully functional sometime in early 2017.

As a reminder, our first greenhouse is focused on producing food for internal consumption at the school and our second greenhouse is set to be both a space for experimenting with growing techniques and maximizing production and as an alternative business model for agricultural production that we can develop even further in the future. Although both greenhouses have economic interests as an obvious focus, their true focus is on being a resource for the students. One of Amún Shéa's guiding principles is that education be both pertinent to the children's world and that it be applied, not solely theoretical. Both of our current greenhouses offer an indispensible resource for all of our students and can help them learn about agriculture, aquaculture, business, and serves as a constant reminder for everyone at the school of how connected we can be with our food and that we must be mindful of the environmental impact that our food production has on the world around us. 

Although we are very happy with our greenhouses (and even more grateful for all of those who helped to make them happen), this is not the time for us to rest on our laurels. An incredibly generous donation from our friend Brendalyn and her local Iowan church has gotten us nearly half of the funds required for what will be our third greenhouse and we have already begun the planning to get the project off the ground. A third greenhouse will allow us to expand our entrepreneurial enterprise and allow even more involvement from the student population at both Amún Shéa and in the surrounnding Perquin Integrated School System. We hope that you can see the huge potential that this project holds for both our school and the surrounding area and can find it in your heart to donate something, no matter how small, to making this project a reality.

The fruits of our labor
The fruits of our labor
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The frame is progressing nicely!
The frame is progressing nicely!

Last week we reported to you on the beginnings and importance of our aquaponics greenhouse project, so today we’re going to let you know how our second greenhouse is progressing. Before that, though, some background on the new project.

Our second greenhouse differs in quite a few ways from our first greenhouse. First off, it’s a lot bigger; when completed it will have nearly twice the interior space of our original. The shape, too is novel. As opposed to a rectangular shape, our new venture is a decahedron (a ten-sided shape with sides of equal length). This shape offers quite a few benefits over the typical rectangle. First, it provides an excellent balance of sturdiness, ease of building, and maximization of surface area. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that it allows the plants to get a large, even amount of light throughout the day.

Finally, although this greenhouse is still integrated with a fish pond (that is, after all, what makes it an aquaponics greenhouse), it incorporates this feature in a new way. In place of a large, external fish pond, the new greenhouse actually has an internal fish pond. This too confers benefits over the previous model. The internal pond allows us unprecedented control over the environment that the fish live in and the quality of water that is nourishing the plants. As this new greenhouse is to have a more experimental focus (measuring and manipulating different variables to maximize production and nutrition), this feature is key.

At the time of this writing, the greenhouse is progressing well. It has been a pleasure to watch the team of students, 23 strong, almost singlehandedly prepare the site and construct the frame for the greenhouse. The students come from Amún Shéa as well as several other local high schools and their level of cooperation and teamwork is impressive. This integrated, multi-aged team provides both a variety of perspectives and a chance to bring other elements of the community into the Amún Shéa process.

The frame for the greenhouse is almost complete and the fish pond is receiving the final touches as this is written. All that remains for the structure is to finalize the frame and put up the roof and walls (not as hard a task as it sounds; both are a plastic film that just needs to be affixed to the frame). Melvin, who you may remember from last week, is the leader of the project, and he is confident that the structure will be completed in under a month. All that remains after that is to install the growing spaces for the plants.

This greenhouse will incorporate several methods of growing plants. There will be, as there is in our current greenhouse, an area for seedlings to mature before being transferred to other areas for growth, as well as beds for potatoes, carrots, peppers, and tomatoes and tubing for lettuce, strawberries, and spinach. We will also be introducing a new growing method; a central PVC pipe will lead vertically from the ground. Out of this, other pipes will be placed, like branches growing from a central trunk. This experimental method will be compared to the already existing methods to test for efficiency of growth and space.

Overall, everyone here is very pleased with the progress so far and is very much looking forward to the completion and implementation of our new greenhouse. Stay tuned for further information on its progress and, next week, for the future of our aquaponics greenhouse project.

Our fish pond mid-construction
Our fish pond mid-construction

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Dennys with his original project
Dennys with his original project

I sat down today with the two brothers responsible for the wonderful work of our aquaponics greenhouses. Dennys and Melvin are the people to go to for the history and future, respectively, of our aquaponics project.

Our project’s humble beginnings are now little more than four tubes of wide PVC piping nailed to wooden poles. Each pipe has a handful of holes drilled into it for the plants to grow in and a small tube that lets water drain from one pipe to the next. Its appearance belies its importance, though; this is the reason that we have one greenhouse and another one in the process of being built.

I asked Dennys to walk me through how this setup works—or worked. “Plants go in the holes,” he said, “They’re put in a foam block that keeps them in place and lets them soak up more water”. It is the same system, fundamentally, that our fully functioning greenhouse uses. “Rainwater gets collected in the top layer and filters down through the tubes to the other plants below”.

It’s a smart system for a few reasons, as Melvin pointed out later in the greenhouse. First, the water gains and swaps out nutrients from every plant it passes through and you don’t have to use nearly as much water as traditional methods. “You get about 80% efficiency out of the water,” says Melvin. He’s not sure about the efficiency of traditional methods, but it’s a lot higher, he assures me.

The second, perhaps more important, reason that the system is so smart is that it allows you to use vertical space for growing plants. Melvin explains that “this vertical system is a lot more efficient than normal farming methods”. Efficiency all around.

Effective use of land is especially important in El Salvador for several reasons. It is the smallest country by quite a margin in the mainland Americas but a sizeable portion of its citizens live in rural areas and depend on farming in some way, whether it be to supplement food supplies or the main source of income for their family. Land is already limited. Furthermore, deforestation is a huge problem in the country, so creating more farmable land to keep up with the increasing population is ecologically irresponsible.

Greenhouses seem to be an important part of the puzzle in El Salvador and the work being done at Amun Shea may just prove to be a starting point for a new agricultural revolution. Stay tuned for our next report, where we will cover the future of our greenhouse project and examine the progress on our newest greenhouse.

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Emptying the system for disinfection.
Emptying the system for disinfection.

Climate change has brought on an onslaught on unforeseen problems for food production. We assumed the major problem to be water supply, one that could easily be solved with the construction of a greenhouse, and with the fishpond as the water supply.

Our original project ran perfectly for 8 months. Then, due erratic weather, the insect population exploded and surpassed our normal security procedures. They came both airborne and through the open air water supply. Before we could react with identification of the problem, we had a serious infection throughout the greenhouse.

This is school however, the place where problems should occur and where solutions may be developed. In that manner, projects proposed out in the "real world" have been tried, tested and proven.

We have disinfected the aquaponics greenhouse and started operations once again. The learning curve means reducing some plants of the cabbage family and surprisingly leaving the mint all together outside. The water supply now is a closed circuit which reduces PH changes and conductivity during rainstorms.

These lessons will be applied to two new aquaponics projects in the works, one of which is a first of its kind, planned, designed and managed by a cooperative made up of students.

We appreciate your continued support to this creative learning tool, a new way to educate. Please invite your friends to join in, as well. Thank you.

Mint was doing great, but became a white fly host.
Mint was doing great, but became a white fly host.
Cabbage family, fantastic growth but a bug host.
Cabbage family, fantastic growth but a bug host.
Hot peppers. Resistant to everything, a keeper.
Hot peppers. Resistant to everything, a keeper.
Replanted, a new beginning!
Replanted, a new beginning!
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Building new models
Building new models

The Amún Shéa Aquaponic greenhouse has developed into an icon of academic application and real-world solution building. The original greenhouse, financed by our Michigan GlobeMed partners, is now in its 8th month of production. It has been our laboratory, learning as we go and finding solutions together.

Our next step is to develop another model, focused on production for the local market. This one comes with another twist, as well, in that it will be planned and executed by students from three schools. Amún Shéa has invited students from the local public high school and the neighboring middle school to join the project. This forms part of a pilot project created by Amún Shéa and the Salvadoran Ministry of Education to introduce good practices and Amún Shéa methodology into the local public school system.

Your financial support to this project not only helps Amún Shéa students in developing real-world applications for their academic studies, but opens access to participation by public school students and contributes to improving education in El Salvador.  

Drawing out the options
Drawing out the options
Non traditional strawberries
Non traditional strawberries
Tomatoes on the way.
Tomatoes on the way.

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Organization Information

Perkin Educational Opportunities Foundation, Inc.

Location: Greenwood, DE - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @peofelsalvador
Project Leader:
Ronald Brenneman
Lancaster, Pa. United States

Funded Project!

Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.
   

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