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Growing Innovation with SVH and Kohl's

Release Date: 07/01/2015

When Sebasticook Valley Health (SVH) was awarded a Kohl’s Cares grant last fall, SVH planned to use the funds to educate and promote access to fresh, local produce grown by area youth and families. Earlier this year, seven organizations and schools signed on to create garden-based lessons that encourage students to discover the benefits of healthy eating, learn about local food, and explore the science behind farming.

One of the most innovative projects that has stemmed from the Kohl’s Cares About ME grant is truly thinking outside the box: Nokomis Alternative Education (NAE Academy), under the guidance of Jeff Giallombardo, is using grant resources to educate students about the benefits of raising fish while growing plants in water. Rather than teach traditional “seeds in the dirt” gardening methods, NAE is focusing on aquaponics to show students the benefits of growing food using water, fish, and plants. Using a fish tank that holds 20-30 tilapia fish with vegetable plants to filter the water organically, students are learning how easy and beneficial growing their own food can be – and they’re learning lessons in science, math, and English.

“We have created an aquaponic system to teach students about gardening and the benefits of locally produced food,” explains Giallombardo. “Our aquaponic system is maintained within the classroom all year, and the program will be sustained for future students interested in growing their own food.”

NAE’s system uses a variety of plants rather than tank filters to improve the water quality for fish. Using vegetable plants like tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers above the tank water where the fish live, the plants use the fish waste for fertilizer – and the result is a completely organic food chain that will provide food for students and their families.

Although greenhouse aquaponics can be complicated and require a high level of management, people can combine aquaponics with a home recirculating setup using recycled materials. The benefit is producing locally sourced fish and vegetables that are healthy, affordable and nutritious.

Coordinated by SVH, the Kohl’s Cares About ME program supports community and school-based gardens, integrates gardening curriculum in schools, and increases access to healthy foods for Maine kids and families through partnerships with Maine farms. One hundred percent of the net profit from Kohl’s Cares merchandise sold in local Kohl’s stores supports this program.

To learn more, visit www.KohlsCaresAboutME.org