Lethbridge College is a leader in aquaponics research, working closely with industry to produce sustainable food in an enclosed ecosystem. But with much of that work done behind closed doors in the college’s greenhouses, the public hasn’t always had easy access to see how the system works. But a new exhibit at Granary Road Active Learning Park near Calgary is now bringing the college’s aquaponics work to light.
One of the newest exhibits to open at Granary Road, located south of Calgary, showcases the cutting-edge work happening in the college’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence (ACE) to an inquisitive and curious audience – school children and their families.
“The new state-of-the-art exhibit at Granary Road is a great way to teach a new generation about the importance of zero-waste agriculture and the different ways we can look at sustainable food production,” says Dr. Nick Savidov, senior researchers in the college’s ACE facility. “We are grateful to be working with a partner like Granary Road to help educate our community about an important, developing technology – something that mimics a natural ecosystem with water, aquatic life, bacteria, nutrients, fish and plants all working and growing together.”
The display allows visitors to get up close and learn about aquaponics systems growing tomatoes, salad fixings, basil and microgreens, which are then available for purchase in the Granary Road Farmers’ Market.
“It’s important to show that the applied research underway at Lethbridge College is accessible, industry-driven and making a real change in our region,” says Dr. Kenny Corscadden, Lethbridge College Associate Vice President – Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “We pride ourselves on research projects that make a difference in the lives of people in southern Alberta, and being able to showcase what sustainable, zero-waste agriculture looks like in this setting helps to build those connections.”
The official opening of the exhibit had to be postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Bret Walter, founder of Granary Road, says Minister of Agriculture Devin Dreeshen and MLA RJ Sigurdson visited the facility during the summer of 2020 and were impressed.
“The technology demonstrates that Alberta has the opportunity to grow an increased number of crops, replacing some of the food supply chains we currently source from other countries,” says Walter. “The pandemic, ironically, strengthens the need to develop this further into viable commercial systems in Canada.”
This summer, the partners will work together to market the first "aquaponic fertilizer" – also known as aerobic digestate – in Canada. The sale of the aquaponic fertilizer is the final step in a zero-waste system, and it will be test-marketed at the Granary Road Market.
“Lethbridge College has been an instrumental partner in showing us how an Alberta-developed technology can be applied to larger agricultural and commercial operations,” says Walter. “They also provide us the opportunity to use the college as a source for technical talent in the graduating students. We look forward to continuing this partnership with the college in the years to come.”
The Granary Road Farmers’ Market and the Play and Learn Park are scheduled to open April 30, pending provincial public health restrictions.
ACE also continues to work directly with industry partners to help solve real-world problems facing producers. Agriculture research teams at Lethbridge College operate under the Integrated Agriculture Technology Centre (IATC) within the Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The IATC connects small- and medium-sized enterprises in the agriculture industry with the technologies and research expertise at Lethbridge College to enhance their productivity, competitiveness and innovation results. Lethbridge College has been recognized as one of Canada’s fastest-growing research colleges while earning its highest ever placement in 2020’s annual ranking of Canada’s top 50 research colleges. The college placed 26th on the top 50 list released by Research Infosource and ranked third in research income growth.