Connected to the large aquarium is a feeder tank where aquatic plants are raised as food for the fish. Students and teachers care for the fish and the component fish food tanks and connected crop beds. Because this aspect of green science is so new, there are few experts or instructional manuals to reference for guidance. In fact, Rosemarie Markopoulos, the school’s Environmental Coordinator, says, “This is all still a new art rather than a pure science.”
Part of the experimentation is maintaining the optimum climate for the fish. Tilapia like the water warm, but perch like it cold. The pH of the water needs to be balanced as well between acid and alkali. The students test the water and keep it regulated between 6.5 and 8.5 in the neutral range.
But, the staff and student hydroponic and aquaponic farmers are working green. Instead of regulating pH with chemicals and fertilizing crops with chemical treatments, everything is being adjusted naturally at the approximate level of two plants per pound of fish.
As the fish and plant waste are filtered out of the aquariums, they are used to feed and fertilize the crop beds of lettuce and basil, instead of using commercial fertilizer. The plant beds are watered and fed from the aquariums and grow under special lighting. Waste from the vegetable beds are fed to the fish and used for compost and mulch to grow the next generations of vegetables.
Community Christian Academy operates the CSW Career Academy with a culinary arts program next door, so the food chain continues with the fish being cooked and served by students, along with the vegetables, herbs, and spices being raised in the school. Outdoor grow beds have been built behind the school to raise additional crops. Alderman Michael Chandler arranged for the city to give the school ten vacant lots in North Lawndale to be developed for aquaponic and hydroponic urban gardens. The city of Chicago is conducting soil tests to ensure the safety of raising food crops for people to eat. The city is also interested in partnering with Community Christian Academy in developing solutions to urban food deserts. Extra produce raised on the urban farm plots will be given to the community, according to Dr. Sampson. She says the school’s next project is launching vermiculture – worm farms to enrich and aerate the soil for the crops.
CCA students recently participated in the city’s Green Festival at Navy Pier, letting people everywhere know that North Lawndale is leading the way in going green!