Lettuce Rejoice! HeLP’s Aquaponics Program Continues to Grow and Thrive!

by Nathan Hokama 

The St. Francis Healthy Lifestyles Program (HeLP) has successfully merged food security, Hawaiian cultural preservation, and health education all into one by offering experiences in aquaponics.
Aquaponics is a sustainable system of food production that combines aquaculture with hydroponics.  Aquaculture involves raising aquatic animals such as fish or shrimps, and hydroponics is the cultivation of plants in water.  In aquaponics, the wastes accumulated in the water from aquaculture are transferred as by-products that serve as vital nutrients for the plants, and the filtered water is then recycled back to the animals.  It’s an efficient system that requires ongoing monitoring and daily maintenance.  HeLP now has three other aquaponics programs under way:
Aquaponics Comes to St. John the Baptist Catholic School in KalihiSJBsrm+

The most recent aquaponics program, launched this past January and continuing through January 2014, is at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in Kalihi.

Through a $2,000 grant from the Pacific Medical Administrative Group (PMAG) Endowment Fund, which is administered by the Hawaii Community Foundation, the school now has a three-foot by five-foot grow bed, a 75-gallon fish tank, 30 tilapia; starter plants and seeds; water test kit; fish food; and supplies.

The eighth graders are taking care of the system, and so far, have harvested lettuce and other vegetables that have been used to prepare salads and soups for those in some of the classes at St. John the Baptist Catholic School.

SFHS - Aquaponics -#66490CE

Sister M. Mark Berdin, Vice Principal and eight grade home room teacher at St. John the Baptist Catholic School, worked alongside students to plant herbs and vegetables. Today, the garden is flourishing as shown in the photo above with Lei Honda-Sigall, RN; Amelia Jose; Jerry Correa, and Nancy Frazier, RN.

At-Risk Youth in Waipahu Benefit from Aquaponics
HeLP is also at work in Waipahu.  Communities in Schools (CIS), a non-profit organization in Waipahu that assists at–risk youth by giving them a nuturing environment and mentoring needed to keep them in school, has an aquaponics program that began last June and continues through June 2013.

Through another PMAG grant, this one for $1,874, CIS now has an indoor aquaponics system that consists of two two-foot by three-foot grow beds and a 40-gallon fishtank with 15 tilapia. The PMAG grant also provided other necessary supplies, including a four-foot fluorescent plant lighting.  The result so far:  CIS was able to grow basil that was turned into pesto for spaghetti sauce to feed the program’s youth.

A Pilot Project in Mahaka

HeLP first introduced aquaponics last year.  Through a $2,500 grant from the St. Francis Healthcare Foundation, last year HeLP introduced aquaponics as a one-year pilot program at Marae Haa Koa, a non-profit cultural and educational organization in Makaha. The pilot ended in December 2012.

The non-profit organization serves children and families from the Waianae coast area. About 90 percent of the participants fall under the poverty level, of which 80 percent identify themselves as Hawaiian.

The St. Francis Healthcare Foundation grant enabled Marae Haa Koa to purchase a three-foot by eight-foot grow bed and a 110-gallon fish tank, 35 farm-raised tilapia, starter plants and seeds, a six-month supply of fish food, plant nutrients and organic insecticides, and a water test kit for sampling the aquaponics system’s water.

In the pilot, 48 students participated in the summer program and 30 attended the after-school mentoring, which including sessions on the basics of aquaponics as well as nutrition, diabetes and hula.

In addition to eating the fish, participants were able to grow pak choy, lettuce, tomatoes, green onions, sage, and parsley that resulted in multiple harvests.  Marae was able to use the food to prepare salads and cooked vegetables for the children participating in the program, and the children prepared the fish and took them home for their families.

Aquaponics at Work for St. Francis Hospice-West

Impressed with the results of the pilot, St. Francis Healthare Foundation and Sister Geraldine Ching, OSF, Chief Sponsorship Officer of St. Francis Healthcare System, provided funding totaling $2,000 for a one-year aquaponics program for St. Francis Healthcare System employees that began last December and continues through the end of this year.

St. Francis Hospice-West in Ewa was the perfect location because of the ample space available. This program includes a three-foot by five-foot grow bed, a 75-gallon fishtank; 25 tilapia, a water test kit, fish food, fertilizer, and other supplies.   The West hospice staff enjoy the teamwork and the responsibility of managing the system. Those caring for the aquaponics system also enjoy the rewards of their hard work with opportunities to harvest their lettuce for their own use.