The proposal was to create an aquaponics operation that would raise fish and lettuce in a clean environment. No hormones, antibiotics, or pesticides. The system would feature a continuously cleaned tank for the fish, filtering the waste into another system that converts the waste into nitrogen that plants floating on Styrofoam flats in a separate tank would use to grow.
The goal was to come up with a community-oriented operation that would “grow” sustainably raised seafood and produce accessible to the community. Farm to table. Sustainable.
The presenter was a freshman at Casco Bay High School, in Portland, Me., and he was speaking to an audience of about 35 people yesterday.
For the second year in a row, I had the honor to serve as an expert panelist witnessing the presentations from promising freshmen, who proposed a variety of sustainable food solutions for the Portland area. I was once again impressed by the depth of their research, the level of investment in their projects and the overall quality of the proposed solutions.
One student proposed farming blue mussels near net pen salmon to filter the salmon waste, which otherwise would negatively effect the surrounding ecosystem in high concentrations. Essentially, the mussels would serve as a natural filtration system. Other students called for a variety of management measures to mitigate overfishing, while also proposing funded retirement plans to support out-of-work fishermen.
Some students promoted increased development and use of community gardens to help solve food insecurity challenges. This solution would also shorten the distance from farm to table, minimize the use of harmful pesticides and improve the quality of the food we eat. Other students called for increased education about national and local hunger issues, and the need to teach students the importance of growing and supporting organically grown produce.
While none of these solutions are truly groundbreaking, they are the culmination of several months of hard work. Students immersed themselves in their projects, called expeditions. They identified a particular food sustainability challenge, dove into the research, and picked out workable solutions for their communities. They took the time to familiarize themselves with the key issues so they could intelligently answer questions about the projects.
Perhaps most encouraging, these students have now become evangelists for the food sustainability issues that affect them and/or their communities. They have come up with answers that could work. They are thinking for themselves.
I had to remind myself that these are freshmen.
Seafood sustainability is a complex challenge with global, national, regional and local implications. There is no one black-and-white solution. We all need to think about it. And we need to pour as much energy, enthusiasm and creativity as possible into working solutions.
So I am encouraged and rejuvenated when I see the efforts of 9th graders who demonstrate that they too have a stake in the sustainability movement.