Middle school student Gleidy Castillo Caraballo harvests some greens from the aquaponics system at Gifft Hill School on St. John.

Island Green Living recently made a $25,000 donation to Gifft Hill School on St. John to ensure the continued success and expansion of the school’s aquaponics and hydroponics program. The organization donated the aquaponics system to the school in 2020.

“We want students to develop a passion for agriculture and food security,” said Island Green Living president Harith Wickrema.

Since the implementation of the aquaponics system at the GHS Upper Campus, students have taken part in caring for the tilapia, whose waste provides nutrients for the herbs and greens grown in the soil-free system. Through various STEAM-related classes, students monitor the system’s water quality and oversee the growth and harvest of the plants. Students have also harvested tilapia from the system, which they used to make fish tacos in culinary class, and the plant growth has been so successful that GHS now supplies microgreens to Shaibu’s Grab and Go restaurant in The Marketplace.

“The aquaponics system fits well with our mission of providing experience-based multi-disciplinary learning,” said GHS Head of School Ken Mills. “We want the program to grow, not just physically by growing more plants or adding more fish tanks, but across disciplines. Students who aren’t interested in agriculture can experience the development of marketing and business plans.”

The aquaponics system is ideal for piquing students’ interest in Virgin Islands agriculture, Mills added, as the system is meant to conserve water and it doesn’t require soil, two precious resources in the territory.

GHS Upper Campus STEAM teacher Dean Walczak said he looks forward to adding fruiting plants to the aquaponics system.

Wickrema noted the myriad of benefits to encouraging students’ interest in agriculture.

“We reduce health care costs because children eat better when they’re a part of growing fresh foods,” he said. “By reducing importation, we cut down the carbon footprint and the packaging material that goes into the landfill. There’s a plethora of ripple effects.”