Goldfish in the supply closet and soil-less vegetable gardens in the kitchen

Sierra Sulc, Editor-in-Chief

Dr. Peter Mecca (blue shirt, kneeling) works with students to put together the aquaculture tank in the Science wing. (Photo courtesy of Mr. Jamie Lahy)













Most students would be shocked to look into a science supply closet and see an above ground swimming pool filled with goldfish, complete with a filter and fish food. It’s also hard to deny that a room full of lettuce being grown without soil in the back of the cafeteria kitchen isn’t at least a little strange. However, Mason has both these things.

About two years ago, the science department received a super grant from the Falls Church Education Foundation.

“Working with Food Services, our goal was to create a more sustainable way to get food for the school, so the cafeteria has to buy less food,” said Mr. Jamie Lahy, science teacher.

The lettuce being hydroponically grown in the GM cafeteria kitchen. This lettuce is being grown without soil. It’s all part of a project to be more eco friendly and help the school become more self sufficient. (Photo by Sierra Sulc)

They came up with two ideas. The first of which was hydroponically grown lettuce (lettuce grown without soil), and the other was an aquaculture project, raising fish in captivity to use as food. The goal is to grow enough lettuce so that the cafeteria doesn’t have to buy lettuce and to raise tilapia, a type of fish, that can be served throughout the year.

“We got the grant two years ago, but we really started working intensively at the beginning of this year. We have a student group that is about eight to ten students, all different grade levels who are helping us set it up,” Mr. Lahy said.

These students include: Bikash Shahi, senior; Jacob Brady, junior;  Eric Lowery, junior; Ian Leach, junior; Andrew Pishner, junior; Matthew Zampella, sophomore; Justin Gemond, sophomore; Jacob Robbins, freshman; Alex Jepson, junior; Adrian Kamel, sophomore.

At GM, there is currently one working hydroponic set up that is in a room in the cafeteria kitchen and one working aquaculture in a supply closet by the chemistry rooms. However, at Mary Ellen Henderson, there at two hydroponic set-ups that will start functioning this fall.

There is already enough lettuce to use in the cafeteria. In fact, you may have eaten some in your salad this week. However, the tilapia will not be ready until mid-late fall of next school year. When they are ready, they will be used in foods such as fish tacos or fish rolls.

These projects have not gone unnoticed. The team was awarded the Green Difference Award in  May, winning for the category of “Green-o-vation” (combining green, STEM, and innovation). Kamel and Mr. Lahy traveled to Boston to accept the award at the Massachusetts State House. Schools from all over the world were recognized in the ceremony.

The goldfish currently being raised in the aquaculture pool in the Science wing of GMHS. They will  be replaced with tilapia in the fall. “We haven’t bought the tilapia yet because we have to get our water chemistry correct. For now, our aquaculture has goldfish because goldfish are really cheap and if one dies, it’s not the end of the world. So, we can use the goldfish to get all the water chemistry and bacteria correct, so that when we put the tilapia in, we don’t have to worry about losing any of the tilapia,” said Mr. Lahy.

The students who received the award were offered scholarships to attend a conference, the Student Climate & Conservation Congress (Sc3). The students received a full scholarship to what would otherwise be a $1,150 experience. The mission of Sc3 is to empower outstanding student environmental leaders with the skills, knowledge, and tools to address climate change and natural resource conservation challenges and better serve their schools and communities. The students who decide to accept the scholarship will be going to National Conservation Training Center, Shepherdstown, WV, Sunday, June 26 through Saturday, July 2, 2016.

The students were also recognized with a banner, hung outside the main office.

“We were so excited. Everyone was so happy. Everybody put in a lot of work. It was a great relief when we actually won,” said Junior Jacob Brady.

This banner is hanging outside the front office to honor the students who received the Green Difference Award. Mr. Lahy and Andrian Kamel went to Boston to receive the award. (Photo by Sierra Sulc)