Dr. Nick Savidov, senior research scientist (top) and Penny Takahashi, aquaculture coordinator, look at vegetables in Lethbridge College’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence. (photo taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic)

Sustainable food production is more accessible than ever in Lethbridge, as aquaponics grows in popularity. The expert scientists in Lethbridge College’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence (ACE) have launched a new series of courses that will provide training in the area to everyone from high school students to interested amateurs to experienced greenhouse technicians.

The first two of nine microcredentials are available now. Aquaponics is an integrated system in which fish and plants are grown together within a recirculating system. Each of the nine courses focuses on a unique aspect of aquaponics and is tailored to the user experience. Each person can pick and choose the combination of modules that meets different individual needs.

“We know the industry needs workers,” says John Derksen, ACE chair. “We are seeing more really large-scale aquaponics operations beginning and they may have greenhouse workers, but they don’t have as many people who have done aquaponics work before. So, if someone has already worked in a greenhouse, maybe they don't need those courses, or if they already have fish knowledge, maybe they don’t need that section, so they can pick and choose what they need.”

The college has offered aquaponics courses in the past as part of its academic programming through the Centre for Applied Arts and Sciences. However, microcredentials allow flexible learning that can be accessed at any time and completed at the user’s own pace. Upon completion, the user receives a badge signifying they have completed the course.

“Microcredentials are a delivery system we are using with more frequency, as they are a quick and adaptable way to build skills,” says Dr. Kenny Corscadden, Lethbridge College Associate Vice President – Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “We can identify areas, such as aquaponics, where we know specific training will be beneficial, and we can develop these modules to help bridge that skills gap to support both workers and industry.”

Aquaponics research in Lethbridge College’s Aquaculture Centre of Excellence (ACE) began in 2003, and has grown exponentially, expanding its team of scientists, researchers and technicians through research grants and opportunities. ACE collaborates with industry and community members to solve real-world issues through applied research.

The centre’s expertise is often sought out by everyone from large-scale producers to individuals looking for an affordable, sustainable way to grow their own vegetables.

“Especially with COVID, we’ve seen more people become interested in the idea of producing their own healthy food,” says Derksen. “Aquaponics is an extremely healthy way of growing food – it’s a self-contained ecosystem, so you know everything that is going into your food, which I think is appealing to a lot of people.”

The aquaponics microcredentials were developed with support from the college’s Centre for Teaching, Learning and Innovation. In addition to being available to individuals, the modules can also be integrated into high school science curriculums. More information and registration for the aquaponics microcredentials is available online. Anyone interested in learning more can also contact Natasha Snowdon at [email protected].

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). 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’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a catalyst for economic growth, sustainability and social development in the region. It brings together researchers, community organizations and students to collaborate on projects that use new or existing knowledge to solve real-world challenges with immediate practical applications. 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.