Wider Horizons

If you’ve ever had a Greek salad at the Round Street Café, an arugula salad at Mocha Cabana, Penny Takahashior anything with herbs, tomatoes or cucumbers from the Lethbridge College kitchens, then you’ve already savoured the successful outcome of some of Lethbridge College’s most delicious applied research projects.

Those vegetables are produced in a greenhouse in a far corner of campus connected to the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence (ACE). It is here that an exciting development in agriculture known as aquaponics is used to combine the seemingly disparate worlds of aquaculture and horticulture. Through aquaponics, fish and plants are cultivated together in a recirculating growing system that can efficiently and safely produce fish and plants year-round while generating little to no waste. These systems considerably enhance the growth rates of greenhouse crops compared to traditional soil-based greenhouse methods.

In other words, these are not your everyday vegetables grown in everyday greenhouses. The plants are grown in nutrient-rich water provided by the fish. While the nutrients are good for the plants, they are not good for the fish. By absorbing the nutrients however, the plants clean the water, which is then recirculated back to produce healthy fish. No herbicides or pesticides are used. Currently, aquaponics produce is for sale to the public and harvested twice weekly starting around May until the end of October, and smaller research systems at the college are producing plants and fish year round.

“Aquaponics has been a part of the college’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence for about 13 years,” says John Derksen, ACE Head of Research. “It was established to show the beneficial relationship between fish and plants and to demonstrate how this symbiotic relationship can provide a form of agriculture that minimizes water and energy use.”

The research and its delicious and environmentally important results are getting noticed around the country and the world. Earlier this year, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada announced that the college received an Innovation Enhancement Grant of $200,000 over two years to advance applied research in the area of commercial aquaponics. As a result, Charlie Shultz, one of the world’s experts on aquaponics training and research, joined Lethbridge College as an aquaponics researcher in August.

The grant will be used to support projects that will assist commercial aquaponics producers locally and across Canada in overcoming existing technical and policy obstacles. It will also be used to help interested parties investigate and adopt commercial-scale aquaponics as an environmentally sustainable form of agriculture.

Penny Takahashi (Renewable Resource Management ‘03), an aquaponics technician at the college, is excited by the rapid growth of aquaponics in North America. “Aquaponics has changed rapidly over the last four years and the number of people touring our facility has increased by 75 per cent,” she says. “People want to know they can grow their own food to sustain themselves.”

To book a tour of the Aquaculture Centre for Excellence, call 403-394-7344. To learn more about applied research opportunities at Lethbridge College, call 403-320-3202 ext. 7344.

Wider Horizons
Lethbridge College
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