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This summer, elementary and middle school students will have the chance to grow organic produce — and fish. It’s all part of a new series of weeklong summer camps hosted at an aquaponics greenhouse at Temecula Valley High School (TVHS).

TVHS students designed and built the greenhouse this past year with seed funding from CTA’s Institute for Teaching. The $20,000 grant resulted in a greenhouse that features four 300-gallon tilapia tanks, four grow beds, and four tilapia brooding/ fingerling tanks. Waste generated from more than 100 fish will feed rows of leafy greens, such as lettuce, spinach and kale. The food will be donated to the Temecula Food Pantry and used in TVHS’ new culinary arts program.

The project began last fall when the TVHS Biosustainability Club was formed. The summer camps were part of the club’s plan, as is a new biosustainability class coming this fall. Under the guidance of TVHS AP biology teacher Toby Brannon, students designed the curriculum for area elementary and middle school kids who want to learn about aquaponics, sustainable farming, and related topics in biology, chemistry and physics.


In December, TVHS Biosustainability Club students and volunteers spend a weekend laying the groundwork (literally) for their greenhouse.

“It’s powerful to see students given the opportunity to create and to solve problems and to lead, rather than be told what to do,” says Brannon, a Temecula Valley Educators Association member.

Student Robert Graff agrees. “At first, I and many others stood around, not realizing what we were supposed to do. But then I realized that we the students are the ones deciding literally everything! We picked out the greenhouse, we found the tools, we built the system, we researched everything and got it to work.”

Students found themselves learning many new skills.


Students Michael Chelsin, Jack Nelson and Shaun Dauble examine one of the tanks to be used for tilapia.

“I was in charge of finding and contacting a reputable source for our media bed’s pumice,” says Lilly La Reay. “I had to learn how to use skills like strong communication, deductive reasoning and effective bargaining while creating a deal with our supplier.”

Proceeds from the camps will further expand the greenhouse aquaponics system and fund work on a photovoltaic array that will power the system.

Aquaponics is a process that combines hydroponics and aquaculture to cultivate organic produce and fish without use of soil. It relies on symbiotic relationships between fish, naturally occurring bacterial culture and the plants being cultivated, and uses much less water than traditional agriculture.

In the TVHS greenhouse, four blue tanks allow newly born tilapia (fingerlings) to be netted and separated out of the two larger tanks and into the smaller tanks for protection as they grow to a heartier size. As the mature tilapia are harvested, the smaller fish are introduced back into the tanks and the cycle is repeated.

Campers will participate in hands-on scientific activities while learning lab techniques and how to document and analyze data, exploring biology and chemistry, and studying the ecological balance between animals and plants in nature.

CTA’s Institute for Teaching awards grants to educators in support of innovative projects. All active, dues-paying CTA members, including pre-K–12 teachers, certificated support staff, education support professionals and college instructors, are eligible to apply. For information and to apply, see