At Sacramento State University, faculty and students are creating a comprehensive system of sustainability that starts with composting food waste and ends with wildlife conservation, hands-on experience for students, and community education about sustainability. Food waste from the dining halls is made into a compost tea, and worms from the compost pile are fed to fish, and fish waste is converted to nitrates, which sustain produce. Students have replicated this system in areas of Sacramento where fresh produce is not readily available. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife are also partnering with the school to see if it’s possible to grow endangered fish species in aquaponic environments.
This approach to sustainability – one in which students are responsible for day-to-day operations and management – starts small but has a tremendous impact, and provides important lessons for universities and colleges looking for ways to go green. Food waste can be a starting point for so much more: ways to think about food and how we get it, how to work with surrounding communities, and how to be responsible stewards of our environment. For more ways to increase sustainability on your campus, please join us on the Path to Positive.
Nearly two years ago, Sacramento State professors Dudley Burton and Brook Murphy talked in this column about creating and experimenting with a sustainable circle of life on a scrap of university land near the American River bike trail, but it was more of an arc of life at that time.
Now, however, many circles are visible at the college’s Sustainable Technology Outdoor Research Center. Faculty and students have created an aquaponics facility where food from campus eateries is composted. Worms from the compost pile feed the fish. The fish produce waste that is quickly converted into nitrates. The nitrates and compost tea sustain spices, lettuces, beets and more.
OK, that’s one circle. But there’s more.
The faculty and students took what they have learned about aquaponics and asked The California Endowment for funding to allow them to teach backyard gardeners in Sacramento how to reproduce an aquaponic system at their homes.
The foundation provided the funding, and Burton, Murphy and their students trained four people who live in neighborhoods underserved by grocers that offer fresh produce. These gardeners regularly offer up their bounty to their neighbors. Now, building supplies have arrived to build the systems.
“The students in my urban agriculture class, probably in a few weeks … are going to build greenhouses in their yards, and we’re installing an aquaponics system,” Murphy said. “Then our students will follow them through for the semester and make sure it’s up and running, and the students are also helping us write reports on how well they’re adapting to it, how they’re using it and what they’re doing with it.”