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Kids Break New Ground, Kind Of Aquaponics

A group of teens in a summer service camp have built Salem-Keizer School District’s first aquaponics garden at Parrish Middle School.

An aquaponics system marries fish and plant life in a sustainable and organic gardening cycle. There is no soil. Just “fish poop with plants,” as one youth put it.

It’s an accurate statement. The feces that fish produce serve as nutrients for the plants, and the plants act as cleaning agents for the water the fish live in.

The system produces more vegetables faster, in less space, and uses less water, said Brenda Knobloch, school-garden coordinator with the Salem-Keizer Education Foundation.

Not only does the aquaponics system produce food, it also is a learning tool for Salem-Keizer students and the community at large.

CARECorps, the summer youth-camp program, is a collaboration of the city of Salem, SKEF, the school district and the nonprofit Isaac’s Room.

Each year, area nonprofits in need of volunteers make a pitch for their projects to the participating youths. The service team leaders then select the ones they want to work on.

Other projects include building a storage shoe room for One Thousand Soles, renovating and sprucing up IKE Box coffee shop and improving the community garden for Boys & Girls Club.

Today, the youth groups representing area high schools will make presentations on their projects to the public at the IKE Box.

Aide Acevedo, a leader of the McKay High School CARECorps team, said her group was interested in the aquaponics project because it has the potential to help a lot of people.

It is an affordable way for food-insecure families to grow their own food, she said.

“We didn’t know plants could grow without soil,” Acevedo added.

Knobloch said the start-up costs of an aquaponics system can be as little as $275, which is comparable to installing a raised bed.

The garden at Parrish will start with goldfish and lettuce, Knobloch said, but it could incorporate catfish, tilapia and other types of produce in the future.

She expects to be able to harvest 50 heads of lettuce per week.

The aquaponics program has been in the works for two years, Knobloch said, but CARECorps has given the project the push it needed to get off the ground.

“Strong hands, a willing heart and a smile — knowing they can make a difference in their community long term,” she said. “It’s been so refreshing.”

The project is supported by the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Food Corps, and Whole Kids Foundation, among other groups.

Laurie Shaw, youth development and prevention coordinator with the city of Salem, said 33 high school students and six college-age mentors participated in this year’s CARECorps, now in its third year.

Seven of the teens have returned for three consecutive years Shaw said, which is testament to the quality of the program. Next summer, Shaw expects to have some high schoolers who have spent all four summers with CARECorps, a milestone she looks forward to.

Currently, it is only open to AVID students, but it likely will expand in the future.


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CARECorps 2013 projects

You can learn more about the following projects at a presentation from 11 a.m. to noon today at IKE Box, 299 Cottage St. NE.

McKay High School: Built aquaponics system at Parrish Middle School

McNary and West Salem high schools: Designed, built shoe storage for One Thousand Soles shoe drive

South Salem High School: Renovated, spruced up IKE Box

Sprague High School: Improved community garden at West Salem Boys & Girls Club and coordinated gardening event for youths

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