Pathways to Produce: Learning to Maximize Aquaponics Systems for Local Food Production

Progress report for YENC20-148

Project Type: Youth Educator
Funds awarded in 2020: $4,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Saint Louis Science Center Foundation
Region: North Central
State: Missouri
Project Manager:
Tina Hodak
Saint Louis Science Center Foundation
Project Co-Managers:
Maddie Earnest
Saint Louis Science Center
Pattie LaBrott
Saint Louis Science Center
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Project Information


This project will harness the aquaponics greenhouse’s capacity as a learning laboratory for aquaponics management and will educate and inspire youth through both informal science education and internships. A micronutrient solution will be incorporated into an established aquaponics system as an experiment to improve plant performance and results will be shared with and directly observed by young visitors. Youth interns will take the lead on measuring crop performance and communicating lessons learned through online blog postings and visitor interactions. Improved signage will address hydro/aquaponics as sustainable sources for local urban production of certain crops and highlight related career opportunities.

Project Objectives:
  1. Engage and educate youth on the technical challenges of indoor and aquaponics food production while implementing a revised nutrient supplement process.
  2. Showcase the iterative process of troubleshooting a typical aquaponics system and teach visiting families and youth audiences about sustainable agriculture.
  3. Engage families in demonstrations and discussions about the profitability, sustainability, and community benefits of urban agriculture through the GROW gallery and SciFest community events.
  4. Engage urban students in aquaponics through sustainable-agriculture-themed field trips.
  5. Communicate information on aquaponics via blog postings, visitor engagement, and enhanced signage in the greenhouse.
  6. Provide aquaponics training and agriculture-career information to teen interns.

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

4 Educators
Education/outreach description:

NOTE: This list has been amended due to temporary closure of the Science Center that began on March 14, 2020

January 2021: Plant and Animal Manager Hannah Reinhart and Senior Educator Andy Senters will begin documenting the current status of the aquaponics greenhouse crops and fish and continue incorporating a revised iron and potassium nutrient solution into the existing 3,000-gallon aquaponics system. Nutrient solution applications will continue every three weeks. GROW staff and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) content developer Angela Mele will create content for improved signage on sustainable agriculture inside the greenhouse. The aquaponics greenhouse will be open to visitors to explore and to engage in daily afternoon fish feedings.

March 2021: Updated signage will be installed.

May 2021: GROW staff will select a summer intern candidate to work in the aquaponics greenhouse, help inform visitors about sustainable urban agriculture, and contribute to a blog about the crop-production progress in the greenhouse. 

July 2021: GROW staff will continue nutrient supplements, greenhouse tours, and fish feedings. Summer interns will participate in educating youth visitors about the GROW aquaponics system and sustainable agriculture. The aquaponics nutrients experiment will be advertised on the SLSC website and through a youth-led blog that will include discussions about sustainable agriculture and careers in agriculture.

August – September 2021: Summer interns will be actively engaged in GROW and supervised by the Senior Educator as they help maintain, monitor, and measure aquaponics crop production. Observations on the greenhouse crops will continue to be shared with the community through blog postings and daily visitor interactions.  GROW and the aquaponics greenhouse will be highlighted in SciFest community events. The availability of Fall 2021 aquaponics field trips to schools will be advertised.

October-December 2021: GROW staff will host two fall aquaponics field trips. Field trips to the GROW gallery include content on what plants in an aquaponics system need to grow and the conditions in which plants thrive in these systems. Students tour the greenhouse and learn about different aquaponics designs and then build their own mini aquaponics system in objects as small as a reused water bottle. In October GROW and the aquaponics greenhouse will be highlighted in the Animal Kingdom Expo SciFest which explores life and environmental sciences. The aquaponics nutrient experiment and sustainable urban agriculture will be the subject of a feature article in the Fall edition of the Science Center’s New Science member magazine which is delivered to over 15,000 households.

January – February 2022: GROW staff will assess the past months of nutrient applications and continue to inform young people about sustainable agriculture while encouraging their continued participation in the nutrient experiment. Nutrient supplementation every three weeks will continue. Youth engagement around the greenhouse will continue to include greenhouse tours, public fish feedings, blog and website articles, and Facebook and Twitter announcements about GROW. Agriculture themes will be highlighted in scheduled SciFests.

February 2022: GROW will participate in the Science Center’s Engineering Expo SciFest which explores engineering and technology and will include displays and discussions about established practices and new innovations in agriculture.

March-April 2022: Host two spring aquaponics field trips. Participate in the Great Outdoors Expo SciFest which celebrates agriculture, conservation, environmental science, earth science and space.

May – September 2022: New interns will be trained in aquaponics and sustainable agriculture and then participate in maintaining the system, educating the public, and adding content to the blog and social media feeds.

October – December 2022: GROW and aquaponics will continue to be open to hosting field trips and engaging the public in tours and discussions.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.