The new harvest: School reaps yields in nature through aquaponics and outdoor education center
By Karen Clifford
MISHAWAKA — During the past year, Queen of Peace School has found ways to combine elements in nature, science and technology in an effort to expand students’ understanding of agriculture. In the process, the school’s new Outdoor Education Center and Aquaponics lab have harvested new methods of teaching and organic farming, which incorporate God’s desire for stewardship of earth’s natural resources.
According to Tina Dover, principal of Queen of Peace School, the concept of an Outdoor Education Center (OEC) originated last year from the family of Thomas Hums. Dover notes that Hums, a recently deceased member of Queen of Peace Parish, was always interested in education and the outdoors. In addition, Rosemary Barnett, a Hums family member and science teacher at Klondike Middle School in West Lafayette, helped create an outdoor classroom at Klondike and was instrumental in the OEC concept at Queen of Peace.
Father Daniel Scheidt, pastor of Queen of Peace Parish, explained that the purpose of the OEC is “to offer to students of Queen of Peace a wonderful place to study the native flora and fauna as well as learn outside the walls of the classroom.”
Mike Nate, facilities manager at Queen of Peace, described that the one and half acres of the OEC give students a place to learn about the diversity of soil, native plants and herbs. “All trees and plants have signage indicating their botanical and common names. The students will also learn the importance of recycling as a compost bin is situated in the OEC,” said Nate.
The first phase included stonework and seating as the walls encompassed the area outside the commons area of the school. The OEC also has many trees, a fern garden, herb garden and floral areas.
Second-grade student Abigail Sanders is excited about using the concrete seating and observing nature in the outdoor classroom. “It’s fun to read with reading buddies in the OEC and explore new bugs!” exclaimed Sanders.
Gina Hite’s fifth-grade class is heading up the composting station in the OEC. “The students started the compost by raking leaves and pine needles and putting them in the bin. Currently they are collecting food scraps such as banana peels, apple cores, vegetable and fruit scraps, bread crusts and orange peels to add to the compost,” said Hite. The class will use a pitchfork to turn the compost over in the bin with the resulting organic matter used for fertilizing the parish’s community garden.
For fifth-grade student Luke Piraccini the station’s objective is twofold, “The compost is a great way to learn about the environment and help it at the same time,” he said.
The idea for an Aquaponics lab was conceived from an article that Father Scheidt read about using fish to fertilize strawberry plants.
The concept of Aquaponics is explained through the courtesy of Nelson and Pade Inc., at www.aquaponics.com, which provides technology, systems and supplies of the Aquaponics Industry.
Aquaponics is the combination of aquaculture (fish farming) recirculation and hydroponics (growing plants without soil). With Aquaponics, you grow fish and plants together in one integrated, soilless system. The fish waste provides a food source for the plants and the plants provide a natural filter for the water that the fish live in. Aquaponics produces safe, fresh organic fish and vegetables.
When Aquaponics is combined with a controlled environment greenhouse, premium quality crops can be grown on a year-round basis, anywhere in the world. Aquaponics could be used to sustainably raise fresh fish and vegetables for a family, to feed a village or generate profit in a commercial farming venture.
There are several environment friendly benefits from the system. The daily water use is minimal. Aquaponics uses six to 10 times less water than the amount of water required in field agriculture to grow the same number of plants. It can be used to produce large quantities of food in very small spaces, compared to growing crops in a field, in an environmentally friendly way. Since soil isn’t required, Aquaponics can be set up in urban areas, in arid regions with poor soil or anywhere that fresh food is needed.
Aquaponics is an ideal means of educating students on plant science, nutrition, physiology and care, nutrient and pH testing, pH relationships, nitrification, biology, fish anatomy and high-tech agriculture. A unit in Aquaponics enforces practical uses of chemistry, mathematics, physics, economics and engineering. Queen of Peace middle school science teacher Jill Lindley emphasized the lab will create observation, experimenting, recording data and problem solving for her students.
“The Aquaponics system will extend our understanding of how things use each other to survive,” added eight-grade student Allie Hite.
Planning is currently underway for future phase development of the OEC, which includes multiple outdoor stations for the students to continue studying earth science. Principal Dover hopes the OEC and Aquaponics lab will also harvest greater faith among the Queen of Peace students. “They give our students the opportunity to become one with all that God has created and learn at the same time. What a beautiful plan,” concluded Dover.