Gannon Students Create Aquaponics System for Local Non-Profit

Posted: May 16, 2014

Two Gannon University students in the environmental engineering program successfully created and donated an aquaponics system, fulfilling the criteria of their senior design course.

Steve Cox and Ben Thompson developed the idea of creating an aquaponics system, a food production system that combines aquaculture (raising aquatic animals) and hydroponics (growing plants in water), from an example housed at the Tom Ridge Environmental Center and other academic institutions in the area.

Through the mentorship of Associate Professors Michelle Homan and Harry Diz over the course of the fall and spring semesters, the students researched, designed and built the aquaponics system that includes five perch, five goldfish and strawberry plants. The students chose these as the plants and animals for their project with the intention on donating the system to Box of Light, a local nonprofit for children of all ages that offers classes to teach various skills to help children learn and think creatively; and "What kid doesn't love strawberries!" said Thompson.

The 70-by-70 ft. aquaponic system will be housed in a greenhouse at the Box of Light facility to teach the children and families more about how it works and its benefits. The students collaborated with and were encouraged by Annie Schmitt, an urban farmer employed at Box of Light, who received her Permaculture Design Certification from the Cornell Horticultural Extension.

The students hope that by working with Box of Light the aquaponics system will grow and spread community involvement. "Hopefully we can come back in 20 years and see a bigger system in Erie and say, 'we helped start that,'" said Cox.