Blog / There are Fish in Our Future!

There are Fish in Our Future!
Written by Owen Lackey, Lead Instructor, Horticulture

Shepherds is very thankful to the Racine Community Foundation for providing an educational grant to expand a new aquaponics system for the Shepherds College Horticulture program. Aquaponics is literally the concept of ‘fish agriculture.’ Farming fish has been around for quite some time, ever since people have been claiming ponds and lakes as their own. Raising food fish has been a method of accumulating livestock for food purposes.

Aquaponics is about taking a naturally occurring environmental system and employing its methods and process to create a natural product in a controlled manner. It involves using one living organism (fish), along with other organisms (natural bacteria) to produce food for a third set of organisms (crop plants) which clean the water for the first organism. This is sometimes referred to as a “closed system.” Above all, it recycles most of its by-products into sustainable and usable


Shepherds College was able to acquire and install the Aquaponics System for the greenhouse early in 2017. The Horticulture students and instructor assembled the system during class-time labs in about 15 hours of work. Once the system is completely outfitted with access to power, clean water, and operational furnishings by the maintenance staff, fish will be added to the tanks.

Our system was purchased from Nelson & Pade™, a Wisconsin-based company that focuses on aquaponics in greenhouses, and will allow our Horticulture students to understand and operate a complete, albeit compact, system. They will participate in and perform the following operations:

    • Handling live fish, both fry and 2½ lb. adults.
    • Feeding fish
    • Fish weight measurements and health evaluation
    • Water-quality testing and adjustments
    • Native bacteria oversight
    • Crop seeding, planting and environmental controls
    • Harvest, both vegetative crop and fish crop
    • Environmental quality, sanitation and food safety

The natural growth cycle of the fish selected will allow a crop of 30 fish every six months, totaling about 115 lbs. of fish annually. The system will also provide capacity to grow between 900 and 1,440 heads of lettuce annually. Both the fish and the lettuce will be clean produce that will immediately be made available to Shepherds College Culinary Arts for use in food service for the campus.

This work experience is aimed to equip our Horticulture students for employment in the Aquaponics field as greenhouse technicians and fish operation technicians.

Aquaponics is a vital, lucrative field, brimming with opportunities for growth. Shepherds is very excited to open up this new field to our students.