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Sitting right in the middle of all the hustle and bustle of this school’s amazing Ecology Program is the Manzo Greenhouse and inside is a 44 sq. ft. Aquaponics STEM Teaching & Food Growing System with its accompanying 320 gallon fish tank.
This school was an early adopter of Aquaponics USA . Manzo Elementary started their Aquaponics program in late 2011 when Aquaponics USA installed their STEM system into a Music Room during the Christmas break that year.
Aquaponics is a food growing technology that utilizes live fish to fertilize vegetables and fruits in a cross-linked ecosystem where the fish fertilize the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish.
integrate Plant and Fish Biology with Chemistry, Math and Engineering. It's STEM Education that actually deals with stems.
There are two more Grow Beds on the other side of the 320 gallon fish tank. Sitting on top of the tank is the , which allows Teachers to leave their Aquaponics STEM Classrooms for the weekend or holidays without worrying about feeding the fish. This System was moved to the Greenhouse.
Once their Aquaponics was installed in the Greenhouse with all of that natural light, they could grow flowering plants along with leafy greens. Indoor systems using like the ones pictured above can only grow leafy greens. But now Schools can order our new Mars Hydro for indoor growing that put out the kind of light spectrum that allows for the growing of both leafy greens and flowering plants like tomatoes, squash, melons, peppers and much more right inside of Classrooms, Multi-purpose rooms and even Libraries as you’ll see in Part 2. Mars Hydro LED's are so inexpensive, we don't even sell Fluorescent Lights anymore.
Pictured next to this photo of the Manzo Greenhouse is a Grow Bed full of Swiss Chard and Arugula. In order to grow these incredibly healthy vegetables, students need to learn to monitor their Aquaponics , which means maintaining the balance between the fish in the fish tank and the vegetables in the Grow Beds. Therefore, the Manzo Elementary students learn to perform water quality measurements on their STEM System and, in so doing, they learn elementary chemistry concepts along with the Nitrogen Cycle, and they practice reading water temperature thermometers.
Above are two unusual plants that are growing like weeds (there aren’t any actual weeds in Aquaponics systems) in Manzo’s . The first one is called Portuguese Kale, and it was chosen because it grows well in hot temperatures like Tucson experiences during the summer.
The second one is called Chinese Water Spinach also known as Morning Glory. It’s used in specialty duck and shrimp dishes in Thai cooking, and it can’t be sourced anywhere locally by the Senae Thai Bistro in downtown Tucson. Pictured above is the happy face of Dee, the Thai Bistro owner, after she receives her bi-monthly delivery of Chinese Water Spinach and Thai basil from Manzo’s STEM Teaching & Food Growing System.
The red pebbles you see in the Grow Beds above are expanded clay . Aquaponics does not use soil for growing food because it’s main source of nutrients comes from the water that is recycled back and forth from the fish tank to the Grow Beds.The Hydroton Media, which is expanded clay, holds the plants in place in what are called Deep Media Grow Beds (one type of Grow Bed that is used in Aquaponics) and it functions as a place for the friendly bacteria to grow and thrive. Aquaponics actually grows four things--fish, vegetables, fruits and friendly bacteria that break down the fish waste and turn it into nitrates that the plants use as fertilizer. That’s where the Nitrogen Cycle comes into play and why it’s important for students to learn about it.
In the words of Blue Baldwin, the Manzo Ecology Program Coordinator (pictured here), “the plants are sold at the Weekly ‘Manzo Market’, a student-run farmer's market that aims to get school garden-grown produce back into the homes of the students that cultivated it.” Blue goes on to explain that, “at the most basic level, the Aquaponics System at Manzo effortlessly engages students' natural curiosity and connects them to a world of abundance and systems in balance they delight in interacting with.”
What Blue is coordinating at Manzo is quite literally a magical wonderland of plants, fish and animals all interacting with excited, engaged and amazed children. This is STEM Teaching at its best. Blue did her undergraduate studies at Colorado College and later completed her MPH (Masters in Public Health) degree at the University of Arizona. She shares that “after working in various sustainability related fields, from natural building materials to watershed management to tree planting to roof top gardening in Manhattan, I joined Manzo Elementary in the Fall of 2014 as the Ecology Program Coordinator and count my lucky stars every day!”
Before Blue took charge of the Manzo Ecology Program in the fall of 2014, there was Moses Thompson, above and on the right. He was there in 2011 when the was installed in the Music Room. This picture shows the Manzo installation crew putting the Hydroton into the Grow Beds. Moses took the bull by the horns, so to speak, and really ran with the Manzo Aquaponics STEM System. In 2013, the Greenhouse was built and in late 2014, Blue came on board and later Moses was promoted to head the entire School Gardening Program for the Tucson Unified School District.
We want to explain the above Photo because in 2011, when this System was installed, it was called a FGS-40 System, and it didn't look like this above photo. It had a Bell Siphon in the middle of each of the 4 Grow Beds and White PVC Water Delivery Rings on top of them. The Grow Beds sat on sturdy, heavy plastic Saw Horses instead of these strong Metal Stands. We've come a long way since then with our proprietary Deep Delivery Water Diffusers that are at the bottom of the Grow Beds and the elimination of the Bell Siphon, which allows for an unobstructed planting area and a more efficient Loop Siphon. It is now called the FGS-44L and looks like the image below on our Page and it's Page.
With Coordinators and Instructors like Blue and Moses, any Aquaponics STEM Program would be a huge success turning Science into Hands-On Interactive learning at its best.
Then there’s the fish, which are an important part of . The fish are so important that Aquaponics USA calls the fish tank “the engine of the Aquaponics System”. And what a bunch of whoppers are being grown in Manzo’s 320 gallon fish tank! Tilapia are one of the easiest fish to grow because they are very hardy and can withstand beginner water quality errors.
According to Blue, the “tilapia are harvested when they reach approximately two pounds” at which point “they are sold at the ‘Manzo Market’ ”. They “always sell out immediately, even with a one-per-customer limit!” Raising tilapia really isn’t difficult as long as their water quality is good, so students need to take frequent water quality measurements.
The fish tank may be one of the most fascinating places on the Manzo campus. Everything fish do goes on inside that fish tank. They eat, they breed, they brood their young and eventually they are caught and sold at the “Manzo Market” or are eaten at a Manzo Fish Fry.
Tilapia are so resilient they can even survive for several hours without the aerators that keep oxygen flowing in their tanks. Yes, fish need oxygen and cannot survive without it. The title of this Series, “We send Schools of Fish to Schools!” is all about the bundled we send to schools, which include 25 or more fingerling tilapia depending on the size of the STEM System, the Grow Bed Media, the automatic fish feeder, a Titanium Heater, a Seed Starter Kit and optional Grow Lights.
This is Joe Navelski, a Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows Program superstar, who showed up to catch and clean Tilapia for the “Manzo Market”. The fish are caught in the morning, and put on sale in the afternoon. That’s really fresh fish. No wonder they always sell out.
According to Blue, “in addition to providing food for our community and serving as a source of revenue, the Aquaponics system at Manzo is a great teaching tool, even at the Elementary level. Students learn Math, Science, Biology, Chemistry and even best Business Practices as they operate and maintain their system and host a weekly market where they sell the veggies and fish that they grow.” Not to mention, their wholesale business with the Thai restaurant.
Below, students examine the seedlings they are growing in the Greenhouse with their magnifying glasses.
Isn’t it time to turn every school campus into this joyful, exciting, engaged and interactive experience called STEM Teaching & Food Growing System Learning?
If you want to learn more about what's happening at Manzo, go to the . This is Living Learning also known as Science in Action and things are always changing.
Here is the 320 gallon fish tank that comes with the . Here Moses is looking for fry, which are newborn tilapia that turn into the giants you see below. Because there's so much light coming into the Greenhouse, Manzo is running what is called a "Green Water" Fish Tank that has a lot of algae, which tilapia love to eat and why they're growing so large.
Below is an amazing sight to behold, children gleefully eating their vegetables! That’s what can happen when they grow the vegetables themselves in their .
Go to our Aquaponics STEM Classrooms In Action Parts 2 & 3 above.