RIGHT: Samantha Leblanc (on left) and Kate Schoenberg are Spring Hill High school students who have created an aquaponics business. Behind them is a stock water tank that has trout in it. The water from the tank feeds the plants on the shelves behind them and then the filtered water is returned to the fish tank.
Photo courtesy of Rick Poppitz
Special to The Gardner News
Samantha Leblanc, 15, and Kate Schoenberg, 16, are Spring Hill High School students who have partnered in creating an aquaponics business they’ve named ‘Wolf Creek Greenhouse and Fishery’.
Aquaponics is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system.
“Fish waste is harmful to the fish when it builds up. The plants filter out the waste, because it’s good nutrients for them; that filters the water for the fish and makes a continuous system,” Schoenberg explained.
The pair were inspired after attending the national Future Farmers of America convention.
“We’re both really involved in FFA, and this year we went to the national convention together, and we got to tour a really large scale aquaponics farm, and —just like that— we were like, let’s start this,” says Leblanc.
Upon returning home, they immediately began researching how to duplicate that on a small scale.
They developed an impressive business plan that made them the subject of a podcast interview from Off Farm Income (offincome.com).
“You can grow pretty much anything in an aquaponics system. We’re growing basil, sage cilantro and dill. We found they’re most popular, and we knew they would grow pretty well,” Schoenberg said.
They’ve been supported along the way by their FFA advisor Alisha Hampton, whom Leblanc described as a “driving force.”
They now have a small aquaponics system in operation, running for about a month now.
At present, that system consists of about a dozen trout in a large stock tank with the filter system that feeds to plants and then returns to the tank.
The cost of this initial setup was roughly $1,200.
Leblanc was awarded a national grant, and Schoenberg was awarded a state grant which helped them with the initial costs.
They haven’t received the funds yet, but they have also been awarded a small business entrepreneur grant from the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
As the operation grows, the duo will offer fresh herbs and fresh fish to individual customers.
“Cutting the fresh herbs right off the vine in front of you – we’re hoping that unique experience will help market it,” said Schoenberg.
She adds that they’ll have fresh herbs year round, even when they’re hard to find in the winter months.
“It’s been a pretty unique experience. Not everyone can say they have fish in their basement,” said Schoenberg.