In the middle of the concrete pathways of South Pasadena High School is a small series of wood planters bearing a variety of homegrown herbs and vegetables—everything from basil to squash.
These edible gardens are the most visible form of the Urban Sustainability Club’s commitment to being environmentally friendly, but that may soon change as the club just received a $1000 grant from the South Pasadena
Urban Sustainability founders seniors Ella Hardy, Austin Kahn, and Angelise Slifkin plan to construct an aquaponic growing system that will make planting vegetables much more efficient for the school.
The term “aquaponics” comes from the fusion of aquaculture and hydroponics, the practices of fish farming and growing plants in water. This particular form of agriculture is a relatively new science, but many experts believe that it may be the key to saving water in desert areas such as Southern California.
“[Aquaponics is] a closed-loop growing system that reuses its own waste in such a way that it requires 95% less water than traditional soil agriculture,” said Kahn.
Used water from fish tanks is circulated through plants, whose roots extract by-products as nutrients, and the purified water is then sent back to the fish with next-to-no water loss.
Prior to deciding on aquaponics, Kahn, Hardy, and Slifkin researched a variety of practices that would make the school more environmentally friendly. They found inspiration at the Clean Air Car Show last summer, where Slifkin and Kahn met a local urban farmer, Andrés Ramos, who gave them the idea of constructing an aquaponic system.
“Andrés was there marketing for his last company, and after they discussed some similar interests in edible gardens and organic architecture, he began meeting with us to improve the community,” said Hardy.
The three students founded the Urban Sustainability Club at the beginning of the school year as a way of gaining support for the project and finding the variety of skills necessary for its construction. More than sixty students attended the first meeting in January, and showed interest in helping with the process of fundraising for, building, and advertising the aquaponic growing system.
“We hope that through Urban Sustainability, especially [with] enthusiastic underclassmen, our efforts will truly be sustainable and our project will grow and carry on,” said Kahn.