Students Develop Sustainable Food System

The food production system can grow plants without soil while also raising fish.

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PITTSBURG, Kan. (AP) β€” Pittsburg State University students are experimenting to develop a sustainable food production system that can grow plants without soil while also raising fish.

The group is working on the Students for Sustainability project with the university's biology department and Enactus, a Missouri-based nonprofit that encourages entrepreneurship and connects students across the world.

The university's rooftop greenhouse is growing plants without soil in a garden that's built out of PVC pipes. The plants are covered with mosquito netting to diffuse sunlight.

"We're growing arugula, red kale, romaine, collard greens and butter lettuce," said student Cecily Stephens. "I'm pushing for starting herbs, and we could use them for fresh pesto."

Students that are part of Enactus donated their hydroponic prototype to the project, the Joplin Globe reported. The prototype was also used to set up a hydroponics operation at a Haitian orphanage.

Hydroponics refers to the method of growing plants using mineral nutrient solutions in water. It's becoming a growing area of commercial food production, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

More companies are blending hydroponics with aquaculture, or raising fish.

The Pittsburg food production system will soon have fish arrive for use in the operation.

"The waste from the fish will break down and provide nutrients for the plants that will use the nutrients to grow, cleaning the water before it's returned to the fish," said Jim Triplett, who volunteers as the university's special assistant to the president for sustainability. "When properly balanced, the system provides extremely efficient food production in terms of resources, energy and space."