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Aquaponics project features LU students, faculty

June 21, 2017 In Lakeland University Blog
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Four Lakeland University students, two LU professors and a Lakeland graduate are busy preparing for an incredible collaborative effort, one that will culminate in Africa nearly two months from now.

When completed, this unique student-faculty research and performance project will be responsible for feeding people in the nation of Malawi for years to come through the fascinating technology of aquaponics.

The official title of this two-month initiative is, “The Business of Science: Empowering Entrepreneurship through the Design and Installation of a Start-Up Aquaponics Farm in Malawi, Africa.”

Malawian Patrick Tembwe earned his bachelor’s degree at Lakeland in elementary education in 2004, and will add his MBA through Lakeland’s Evening, Weekend and Online program later this year. Tembwe is motivated to start a business and make a difference in his home country, and with his alma mater’s help, aims to install an aquaponics system in Malawi.

The Lakeland students who will join Tembwe in Africa for the construction of the system are Ashley Calkins, Amalia Dodgson Liosatos, Tiffany Fischer and Emily Scherer. Calkins and Scherer are biology majors and Dodgson Liosatos and Fischer are business administration majors.

Supervising and working side-by-side with the LU students on this ambitious project will be Lakeland Instructor of Hospitality Management Britanni Meinnert and Associate Professor of Biology Paul Pickhardt.

Aquaponics is a system that produces fish and vegetables with nutrient-rich water fertilized by the fishes’ waste. As the fish grow in multiple tanks, the water they live in is filtered and moved into large water-filled, elevated “gardens” (there’s no soil). Vegetable plants of various sizes float on rafts, their roots dangling through holes into the nourishing, aerated water below.

Brian Frink, dean of Lakeland’s School of Science, Technology and Education, said the fish Tembwe will grow in his aquaponics system in Malawi are called chambo, a tilapia-like species. He said the system will produce about 45 ready-for-harvest 2.5-pound fish each month.

In terms of vegetation, Frink said the plan is to focus on tomatoes, lettuce, onions, kale and other staples to sell at market, along with the fish.

One exciting possible arrangement being worked on involves a nearby orphanage supplying some water and power, and in turn receiving fish and vegetables.

Currently, the Lakeland contingent is training in the science of aquaponics, primarily at the local Lake Orchard Aquaponics Farm near Sheboygan, Wis. One recent morning, Tembwe, Calkins and Scherer were doing everything from planting new seeds to transferring bigger plants into the water rafts to harvesting mature fish so they could be sold to a local vendor.

On July 28, the Lakeland group will head to Malawi and begin putting its knowledge and experience to work by assembling the farm.

Prior to the trip, the four undergraduate students and Tembwe will spend four days a week at Lake Orchard Farm, becoming familiar with the Montello, Wis.-based Nelson+Pade Aquaponics system that’s similar to the one they’ll install in Malawi.

Tembwe and the students will also research and plan for the unique logistics of installing the system in Africa, such as what kinds of insects and plant diseases there are, how the climate will affect the fish, the chemistry behind water filtration, pH balance and more. The business students will create a comprehensive plan for Tembwe’s start-up, including the marketing and sales plans and an accounting system.

The planned completion date is Aug. 8.

While in Malawi, near the end of their visit, the four undergraduates and Tembwe will discuss their work with students and faculty at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

And after the Lakeland students return to the United States, they will give a presentation on campus to interested Lakeland University students, staff and faculty regarding their work. The four will also give a presentation about the overall activity and their set up of the equipment used in Malawi to staff members at Nelson+Pade.

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