Oromocto High School students find farming gold in goldfish

A New Brunswick high school is harnessing the power of goldfish to help grow produce.

Oromocto High has built a working aquaponics setup designed to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs.

The school partnered with educational consultant Adam Weaver on the construction of the setup.

"I'd worked with teachers from Oromocto High School before ... they knew about my interest in sustainable agriculture and had asked me if I would be interested in leading an experiential learning project here," said Weaver.

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The aquaponics setup has two main parts.

The first is the two-tank fish and water portion.

Fish live and are fed in the first tank. The waste they produce floats to the top.

The top layer of water, containing the fish waste, then slowly drains into a second holding tank.

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The water from that tank is then pumped into a planting bed filled with heated clay pellets, which absorb the water.

The plants derive nutrients by drawing the waste out of the water,  which is eventually returned to the first tank as clean, fish-safe water.  

Student Tyler Carr said he has always had an interest in fish and aquariums, so this aquaponics setup was a natural fit.

"Basically fell in love with it," said Carr.

"It's quite a lot of fun."

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Natalie Mombourquette, a teacher at Oromocto High School, said the program is part of the school's extensive innovation wing, which includes 3D printers, greenhouses and other forms of experiential learning.

"We're really looking at non-traditional education, challenging educational norms, and trying to expose students to different career paths," said Mombourquette.

"What we wanted to create here is something that would expose them to agriculture and aquaculture."

The setup took about a month to build and costs under $2,000, with almost half of that going to buy the lights.

Carr said the most difficult part of building the setup was constructing a planting bed that could withstand the weight of the water and clay pellets.

"It's got to hold well over a thousand pounds," said Carr.

"When it fills up with the water and the expanded clay pebbles it's a lot of weight."

Jordan Gill/CBC

Weaver said the system uses 80 per cent less water than traditional farming and believes it is the future of agriculture.

"New Brunswick right now is in a bit of an existential crisis, because the average age of a farmer in this province is 56 and there's not a whole lot of young people that are getting into it," said Weaver. 

"So we have to find ways in which we can show young people that there are actually different ways to farm rather than conventionally."