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Growing education

By Staff | Apr 24, 2019

Students from Island Coast High School’s Academy of Natural Resources — the first of its kind in Lee County — hosted a “Seed to Table” event last Friday evening to highlight the school’s program that has been going strong for 10 years and to raise money to further educational opportunities for scholars.

The students presented a fish and chips dinner for the community to enjoy, with everything being grown right on campus.

Workshops were also held on how to use rain barrels and home hydroponics. There was even a fillet contest won by an alumnus of the program.

“The event was to showcase what our students have done this year and what they’ve learned. So we came up with the idea that this is the first year we could actually have a full seed to table event where we could feed everybody and everything they consumed was literally grown in the school. We’re all about sustainability,” said Joseph Mallon, Academy of Natural Resources instructor.

Severe weather on Friday put a damper on the turnout, though the school harvested 600 tilapia in preparation for the event.

The academy also grows a vast amount of vegetables such as peppers, tomatoes, onions, carrots, kale, lettuce and more, all right on campus, in expansive green houses with hydroponics systems all put together by the students.

Mallon said they hope to have a system that can produce up to 400 heads of lettuce at a time.

“Everything that is in this program is done by students,” Mallon said. “If you look at the greenhouses out there, they’re built by the kids. It’s a really hands on class.”

The campus has various greenhouse apparatus and an array of tanks and systems that students work with each week. This year, they even started to produce duck weed and began a fruit forest.

The Academy of Natural Resources is a four-year program, as some of Cape Coral’s brightest learn the basics of agriscience foundations year one, aquaculture and agriculture biotechnology year two, design systems of their own in year three and hold internships and partake in fieldwork experience in year four.

Students can also gain certifications as part of the program.

“It doesn’t do you any good to teach students what’s going wrong with the world if you can’t teach them that their are solutions,” Mallon said. “They’ve got to learn that they are the solution. I run this class so that students can actually learn about how screwed up it is — but don’t get so caught up in the negativity that they don’t think that they can’t do anything and just accept it and become part of the problem. Their are solutions to these problems, it’s just that they have to be part of it. They can’t just stick their heads in the sand and think that everything’s going to get better.”

Each year, his students come up with some new ideas for projects, such as the duck weed and fruit forest. Mallon said they also hope to go all-organic with their fish next year.

“Duck weed is a type of plant that takes up nutrients really well, but it’s also high in protein, so we’re going to feed it to (the fish) so we don’t do commercial feeds. Once we cut out the commercial feed, then you become certified organic. That was our big thing this year.”

They’re also building a black fly larva system where the tilapia will get the meat from the larva on top of the duck weed.

The program also supplied the school with vegetables for two months during the school year.

“Instead of selling it at the farmers markets, I gave it to the cafeteria this year,” Mallon said. “My ultimate dream would be to be able to feed our school .. and set these systems up in other schools.”

His message to students can be found in his mission statement.

“To teach my students the tools they need to not only be successful academically but also the practical skills needed to succeed in every day life. All while guiding them to be stewards of the earth and being the solution towards a sustainable future,” he said.

He’s proud of the work they’ve done over the years, especially in the last two, where the lab and greenhouses have really taken off thanks to grant money provided by West Coast Inland Navigation.

Mallon gets only $800 to run the program each year.

“Every one of my kids can work with their hands. They can troubleshoot and think. They have hands-on experience so if something goes wrong they can think three dimensionally,” Mallon said.

Another project they’re working on involves red claw crayfish. The program is hoping to have grow beds completed for next year’s class.

For those interested, the program is selling tilapia harvested from the event but was not used due to the weather-effected turnout.

Visit ich.leeschools.net/ to place your order.

Island Coast High School is at 2125 De Navarra Parkway in Cape Coral.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj