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Aquaponics Green House

Our greenhouse will be a place where students can learn about food technologies and benefit from its products during meal times.

Photo of Jessica McKerrow
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Kent Elementary School (School District 78)

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Other

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

We would work in consultation with Rainforest Aquaponics, BC Greenhouses, Ceres and SunWind Solar to build the green house, create the aquaponics system and create spaces for students to practice these technologies.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

https://sd78.bc.ca/schools-facilities/kent/

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Agassiz

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Canada

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Kent Elementary school and families in Agassiz. 168 km2

What country is your selected Place located in?

Canada

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

I selected Kent Elementary school and its surrounding community because I work here. I am the Vice Principal at Kent Elementary and have worked in the area for 9 years. The success of this school and community is important to me because I know the people connected to our school. I see the families working hard to help their children succeed and my job is to support them. 

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Kent is often described as a warm school. We work with students from a wide range of backgrounds. Many of our families farm but most live in the small town of Agassiz. Three First Nations reserves feed our school in the Kent district and 40% of our families are First Nations. Many families rent and can not afford housing. Still many families have moved out to Agassiz from Vancouver so they can afford housing. These commuting families often have their jobs in Vancouver. I worked with a family last year where the parents would leave at 5 am for work. It was expected that the kids get themselves to school. When one of the children stopped coming to school, with the parent's permission, I began stopping by the house every morning and driving them to school. This is a common story at our school and why it is a warm school. We care about our kids and we reach out to support them.

We have 287 students in our building currently and we feed about 50 students breakfast and lunch. We also send our students home with backpacks full of food on Friday so they will have enough food over the weekend. The local church both funds and staffs our kitchen to help support this food program. The Child & Family services (government protection agency for children) has noticed a reduction in the amount of calls reporting abuse since we started giving our students regular food. 

We drum most mornings with Cody, our First Nations Support worker. Students from many backgrounds are encouraged to participate. The students wait by the doors while Cody and his drummers drum. Even if the bell rings students wait and when Cody is done they know it is time to go to class. This is just one of the many ways that Cody, Roxanne and Ryan help us learn how to integrate local First Nations knowledge and experience into our school.

Dairy and corn are the primary crops in the area. We get a lot of rain and, being at the base of the Fraser Valley water shed, makes this area a rich place to grow food. However, like elsewhere, farming is declining because of the cost of land and the lack of profit in traditional farming. 

Our students often do not bring vegetables to school. Most lunches contain a sandwich of some kind but then most other things are processed food. This makes listening, learning and being still difficult for our students. Many students have no idea how their food is grown and they are disconnected from their food cycle. 

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

6077

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

As more people move from Vancouver to Agassiz, due to rising house prices and overpopulation, farmers are at risk of decreasing further. Much of our food commonly found at grocery stores, is shipped in from outside of Canada during fall, winter and spring. There are foods grown locally in the summer and there are farmers markets in the summer as well, but most of the food comes from outside the Fraser Valley. This is not a sustainable model. 

In addition, our wild salmon stalks are declining from over fishing, illness and reduction in habitat. There is much information online about the illnesses and lice spread from our farmed salmon to wild fish stalks. https://thenarwhal.ca/war-on-the-waters-salmon-farms-losing-battle-with-sea-lice-as-wild-fish-pay-the-price/). In addition our most recent and one of the most devastating reduction in habitat for our local salmon happened this past summer with the rock fall blocking a key area of the Fraser River (https://globalnews.ca/news/5435982/fraser-river-rock-slide-salmon/). As a result, we need to find a different way to grow and sustain our fish. 

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Kids and families need to see value and sustainability in growing their own food or buying their food locally. They need to have a passion and interest in it. In my experience, growing food with kids helps them get curious, ask questions and develop that passion. They now have a living thing in front of them, something they care about. As a result, looking after it and benefiting from what it provides also becomes more engaging. 

If we now extend this to our grade six class with applied design and technology, we can have students learning about the bacteria in an aquaponics system and the importance of surface area; the relationship between the fish, plants and that bacteria. We can have a space in our green house where we have a functioning aquaponics system as well as a space for a class to work on building their own that year and working on solving all the challenges that come with a project like this. We can work in math and talk about how much a system like this would cost. Kids can learn how they can build a system out of inexpensive/recycled material.

During family nights we can include the greenhouse as a space to explore. We can have our students taking leadership roles and teaching their families about how the green house works. 

All of this learning and involvement will instil in our students and families that aquaponics is a feasible option to support our food network. It is a way for us to get healthy, organic food. It will plant a seed for the high level vision.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Getting students and the community involved in growing their own food in an aquaponics system would expose them to a food technology that is more sustainable. It can inspire and teach others how to build their own system. This is the high level vision: kids and families growing into the aquaponics concept and then taking on their own system at home. As well, our vision includes students growing up to see farming as a viable career option, something they are passionate about, something that can help their families both financially and nutritionally. 

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?


SEPTEMBER 6, 2050. AGASSIZ OBSERVER (NEWSPAPER ARTICLE)

Students returned to school today at Kent Elementary school excited to start work on their solar powered aquaponics green house, (commonly known as The Powerhouse,) that has now been running for 25 years and I thought it was time to reflect on all the changes in our school and community since the installation of this green technology. 30 years ago we started with this question: What would happen if students and families could learn more about aquaponics and renewable energy at school? And now we have some of those answers. In the next three sections we will go over the environmental, social and economic shifts that have happened since the beginning of The Powerhouse.

Environmentally

Since the inception of The Powerhouse several environmental shifts have happened in our community. Most apparent is our move away from fossil fuels. For a community where money could often be tight, buying a Tesla or installing solar panels was not an option for many families. However, as students brought their families into The Powerhouse, which is powered not only passively but also by wind and solar panels, many started asking more questions and investigating the possibilities of solar and wind power for their homes and cars. Our students never built The Powerhouse, but it is a regular part of the instruction to learn about how it is powered and experiment with it on smaller projects such as solar cars. As a result, families have seen wind and solar power as a good investment and there are even some great do-it-yourself stories of families installing their own green energy at home. The Powerhouse gave many families the courage to try out solar and wind energy in their own homes, something they may not have been willing to invest in had its potential not been modeled so effectively through The Powerhouse. 

Once The Powerhouse was installed, many local farmers, also influenced by the vertical farming that was happening in Vancouver, B.C in the early 2000’s, began investigating and building their own solar and wind powered greenhouses with vertical beds. We have now found that more organic food can be grown in less space and less water. It is, of course, an on going process learning how to manage these farms. Pests can get into the controlled environment and cause damage, but farmers have slowly been finding ways to deal with these difficulties. Ladybugs and biodiversity are our biggest assets in our greenhouses. 

In addition, over the past 20 years, due to a rise in the ocean and cost of living in Vancouver, B.C., thousands of people have been displaced from coastal areas. However, as a result of needing less space to grow food, Agassiz has been able to maintain large green spaces for wildlife. 

As mentioned earlier, Agassiz has not had to draw on the ground water reserves to the same extent that other farming communities have. As a result of using aquaponics, which is a closed system that reuses its water, we have been able to leave our water in the ground. This is allowing Agassiz and surrounding communities following the same trend to full fill their obligation of providing free water to all its citizens. 

Speaking on a greater scale, since its inception, The Powerhouse and greenhouses like it, have sprung up all over Canada. Canada’s climate has always required most outdoor farms to live at the very southern border, which left much of Canada importing its food. Now that land cost in southern Canada is at an all time high, this has made owning productive farmland a nearly impossible option. When The Powerhouse was built, it was a model to other schools, farms across Canada and northern communities, that more food could be grown in less space, with less water and in many cases off the grid. 

Social

Agassiz has always come together for farmers markets and the yearly agricultural fair. These gatherings are still a vital part of the area but they have shifted and grown. With more cultural diversity in Agassiz we now grow and eat a larger variety of food and this can be seen in the colours of vegetables seen at our farmers markets. We have seen some growing pains socially as different cultural groups have worked to emerge in Agassiz but we are Canadian, and Canadians work to understand each other. We understand that diversity means more knowledge from a more vast background, it means richer answers to difficult questions, and so we work, and we will continue to work to reach out and build bridges while maintaining the philosophy that we are stronger together. 

One of the ways we can see the mixing of cultures are in wild spaces. Lovers of the outdoors all have something in common. With the green areas in Agassiz that have been maintained due to the vertical farming and the influence from The Powerhouse people create welcoming outside gatherings. Regular Thai Chi and Yoga classes as well as a growing hiking club in Agassiz all add to the physical and mental health that local residents boast about.

Economic

Since the increase in Agassiz’s population, its business center has multiplied. This has put more pressure on long standing business and has made the council make some tough choices about how land should be developed. Following the trend of growing food vertically in aquaponic green houses the council has decided to also build up for new residents. This has meant many more high-rises in Agassiz. The visual change in Agassiz has been difficult for some who were used to the pastoral look, however growing vertically not only with food but with homes has helped Agassiz preserve its natural space. 

End of Newspaper Article 

OUR VISION ADDRESSES THE SIX INTERCONNECTED THEMES:

Environment

We need to start growing and buying food locally, in a way that is less dependent on fossil fuels. Our green house could provide and teach others how to provide local fish and vegetables. 

With solar panels we can also fuel the fans and lights needed at key times of the year. In summer, the green house must have fans that can suck the air out of the green house several times an hour to keep the green house at the right temperature. In winter, with our short amount of sunlight in our northern hemisphere, we can extend the day with battery stored solar energy. We can also heat the green house in winter with passive energy by digging 4 feet down under the foundation of the greenhouse. The temperature 4 feet down stays more stable during the year. We will install pipes that go down the four feet and branch out into a network. There will be an intake and an out-take pipe in the greenhouse. Fans will be located at the intake pipe to push the air from the green house through the pipes. The air coming out of the out-take pipe into the greenhouse will be warmer or cooler depending on the season. In winter the air coming out of these pipes will be warmer. In summer the air will help cool the green house down. We will work with the company Ceres, the authors of "The Year Round Solar Greenhouse" on a consultation basis to help us build these technologies. 

Diets

Our students struggle with making healthy food choices. They often do not want to try vegetables and they would not choose to eat them if given an option. Growing food with kids helps them see plants in a different light, helps them develop a relationship with their food. In talking about this project with our students, they have loved the idea of spending class time to grow and learn about growing their own food. This passion for good food will grow with these students and become a part of our community. Students will shift their choices in the food they eat if they have a relationship with the plants and are invested in healthy food choices. This will pass through generations to come in our community. With more students seeing farming as a viable option they will increase the opportunities for others in the community to eat healthy as well.   

Economics

Many of our kids do not have healthy food at home because it is too expensive. Parents I have spoken to say that vegetables often spoil before they can get their kids to eat them. Teaching students and their families how food can be grown in an economical way and be a source of income, will make eating healthier and more locally a viable choice. 

Culture

We are a warm school and students and their families see us as a safe nurturing place. We work and have success with kids from all backgrounds. Many of our kids deal with trauma and this comes out in their behaviours. Having a space at our school that can be quiet, where kids can continue to tend plants and feel that they are making a contribution will only add to our warm culture. 

Welcoming families into the green house so their kids can explain what they have learned will add to the relationships we can develop with our community. Students taking the food home from the greenhouse and explaining why it is important to them can create a wonderful dialogue at home and contribute further to a positive culture. 

Technology

What a better way to learn about technology than to have real life samples of it in our school. We show kids how solar panels and wind turbines work and then have spaces in and around the green house for them to experiment and learn about this technology. 

Policy

Although our curriculum is shifting to be more student-centred, students can often feel detached from their studies because they do not feel that what they are learning is important or relevant to them. They learn to "hoop jump" rather than think critically about their work. Having a space like a solar and wind powered aquaponics greenhouse can give students the opportunity to learn about technologies that will be relevant to their lives. In addition, it will allow the families to see the students as people who can come up with solutions and contribute. Recognizing students this way helps us shift policy around kids. 

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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