Thanks to the ingenuity of aquaponics, an integrated system in which fish and plants are grown together within a recirculating system, sustainable food production is now more accessible than ever before in Lethbridge.
“The nutrients the fish are producing are taken up by the plants as the nutrient source and the plants are cleaning the water for the fish,” explained John Derksen, chair of the Aquaculture Centre of Excellence (ACE) at Lethbridge College.
“But the third component in that is the microbiology. What we’re trying to emulate is nature, but in a commercial and very intensive kind of stimulation.”
The ACE is now giving anyone from high school students to experienced greenhouse technicians the online opportunity to receive micro-credentials in this area of study.
School officials said the courses are designed to be convenient.
“Micro-credentials are really accessible and easy for people,” said Megan Shapka, associate dean at the Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Lethbridge College.
“We try to build them here so that they can be done quickly and done wherever you are, and that’s really attractive to people in this kind of environment where we’re learning remotely and we’re trying to cram different things into our heads in different ways.”
The courses each take about 10 hours to complete and only cost $50.
The college has offered aquaponics courses in the past as part of its academic programming through the Centre for Applied Arts and Sciences, and the institution has been conducting research in the area since 2003.
Experts at the college say aquaponics is an industry with significant potential as a need for qualified workers in the sector continues to grow.
“What we’ve seen is the people in it are interested in growing more healthy food… (from) mom-and-pop operations to just small community operations and now commercial,” Derksen stated.
He went on to say that the pandemic has made businesses even more conscious of where their food supply comes from.
“COVID(-19) has really made some companies aware of how vulnerable they are to transport,” Derksen said. “So if they can’t get their ingredients, they’re in trouble, and now they just can’t manufacture or keep in production.
“So that’s one thing, and they’ve come to us saying, ‘Hey, we want to grow our own right here.'”
The first two of nine courses are available now, and more credentials will be made available in the months to come.