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Aquaponics Raises Awareness of Sustainable Practices

Jack Lyke Even though the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered his greenhouse lab, State High science teacher Jack Lyke hasn’t stopped thinking about aquaponics.


In fact, he has more reason these days to ponder ways of teaching the cultivation of fish and plants together.


Lyke was chosen by Blue Stream Farms, a West Virginia-based nonprofit focused on aquaponics education through project-based learning, to serve on a steering committee tasked with helping create an online aquaponics course. 


To form the committee, Blue Stream Farms invited teachers from six of the 10 schools it views as having the nation’s top aquaponics science programs. Schools from Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Tennessee and Virginia are also represented.


“It was quite an honor to be asked,” Lyke says.


Aquaponics combines aspects of aquaculture and hydroponics, using fish waste as plant nutrients within a constructed ecosystem. Lyke has been teaching it at State High for six years, including last spring in a state-of-the-art 1,000-square foot greenhouse until it had to close because of the pandemic.


Blue Stream Farms board member David Velegol got to know Lyke and learned about his program’s breadth and reputation while researching aquaponics in high schools for the past four years. 


Students in lab “As we started to develop Blue Stream Farms, we began integrating content in the areas of science, technology, writing, engineering, arts and math,” Velegol says. “The one component that was missing was a high school class that focused on aquaponics science that could provide content in chemistry, biology, botany, ecology and sustainability. Jack has a program that he has developed over several years that will be instrumental.”


Last spring, Lyke launched his latest course, Aquaponics and Sustainability, with seven students operating two systems. In 300-gallon tanks, they raised tilapia fingerlings to grow lettuce, which they sold to faculty and staff. The fish were harvested and frozen for future culinary arts program meals — part of the course’s focus on sustainable food production.


“I was trying to instill in them not just how you raise fish and plants, but what it means to actually live lighter on the planet,” he says. “How does sustainability work? What should we be doing?


During this school year, the greenhouse will remain closed to comply with health and safety protocols, but Lyke has his sights set on resuming full aquaponics instruction for the 2021-2022 school year. In the meantime, he’ll devote himself to reaching a wider audience. For the online class expected to become available by the fall of 2021, he and his steering committee colleagues will blend components from their respective programs, mixing digitized class presentations with new videos.


Aquaponics “This is designed to connect the best of each aquaponics program into a course that can be taught throughout the United States,” Velegol says.


For his part, Lyke hopes aquaponics science will help raise awareness of sustainable practices and inspire students to advocate for the planet’s health.


“Aquaponics is not going to be the magic bullet,” he says. “It’s going to be part of the solution, and that’s what I want it to be. As an educator, I want to be able to show kids that if they’re interested in going in that direction, and a lot of them are, here’s how.”


By Chris Rosenblum

Photos by Nabil K. Mark