Aquaponics system feeding Del Oro students
The Del Oro High School cafeteria is taking locally-grown to a new level by serving lettuce grown on campus.
Del Oro junior Pierre Beauchamp, 17, has been working for more than a year to design and build an aquaponics system in the school’s FFA greenhouse that would allow students to grow food that could be served in the cafeteria. Now, that idea has become a reality.
Pierre’s aquaponics system is similar to a hydroponics system in that plants are gown in water, but the aquaponics system uses fish waste rather than chemicals to generate the nutrients for the plants. Although the process was not without its obstacles, Pierre said he’s happy.
“It has definitely been a journey,” Pierre said. “It’s been pretty amazing.”
Pierre first became interested in sustainable farming at age 13 and within a few years had built his first aquaponics system in his family’s greenhouse. Since then, he has continued to modify the system and develop new ideas for how and where to use it, including producing food for the Del Oro cafeteria.
One of Pierre’s longtime friends, Hayden Tucker, 17, a senior at Placer High School, said Pierre asked him for help.
“I’m interested in sustainable farming so it was cool to help build it,” Hayden said. “I think it’s pretty cool that it is part of Del Oro’s cafeteria.”
Although Hayden said he is impressed with Pierre’s dedication.
“He’s actually gone pretty far with it,” Hayden said.
Regina Dvorak, Del Oro agricultural sciences teacher and FFA advisor, said, “He has done a lot of work to educate people about the system and how it works,” Dvorak said. “Not many people know about these systems and he has had to learn how to talk about it in a way that people understand.”
While serving as a learning tool for subjects such as biology, chemistry, and agriculture, Dvorak said the system also provides some surprising opportunities for teaching, including website design and journalism. Making sure the system remains a functional part of Del Oro in the future depends upon keeping people informed about its benefits and how it works, Dvorak said.
“Our web design students will be building a website for it and journalism students will be involved in writing stories about it,” Dvorak said. “It’s really an amazing teaching tool.”
Pierre has been recognized internationally for his efforts to bring locally grown food to his school. Last year, he won second place in the Global Green USA Citizen Entrepreneur contest and was sent to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil as part of the United Nations Earth Summit 2012. He has also been asked to speak at a conference at the University of Wisconsin in June.
“It’s been pretty amazing, all the things I’ve gotten to,” Pierre said.
Pierre said he has also had to overcome some hurdles, including obtaining a permit from the Placer County Health Department and addressing an issue with the system that resulted in the loss of several hundred fish.
“I had 500 fingerlings die on me overnight,” Pierre said. “It was pretty shocking.”
Tests of the system’s water revealed high levels of chlorine, which, although not harmful to humans, blocks the ability for fish to take oxygen in through their gills. Once the problem was identified Pierre said he modified the system to include aeration of the water before it was used in order to reduce the levels of chlorine.
“It’s working great now,” he said. “If there is a tiny bit of chlorine it won’t hurt them.”
Pierre hopes to add spinach, tomatoes and carrots to the list of vegetables he is able to provide to the school cafeteria for lunches, but for now he is focusing on perfecting the lettuce.
Although Pierre said the system works well for growing lettuce, he and his fellow students are examining ways to grow other vegetables in large enough quantities for the cafeteria.
“We’ll just keep working at it step by step,” he said.