CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — On Thursday of last week, Holy Cross School students celebrated a successful first harvest, but indoors. It’s all thanks to their Aquaponics Towers, which they’ve had installed since March of this year. Thanks to Sky-High Aquaponics and CEO, Dick Tryon. Then a second tower was gifted by the Eric Meyer family who owns KAM’S in Champaign. Today, I had a couple of those students on the Morning Show share how this is impacting them and the world.

Zora Unger and Lara Rank are seventh graders at Holy Cross who’ve contributed to growing produce using Aquaponics in class. The produce can then be used to provide food to local soup kitchens and organizations feeding the needy. A mission that was first started in Puerto Rico and Michigan where Dick wanted to bring sustainability. Now, Champaign proudly sits on that list.

Lettuce, strawberries, and spinach are but a few of the produce opportunities Aquaponics can bring to fruition. This method of vertical farming is not only convenient but cost-effective. An average tower, at $1,500 to make, can feed a family of four for an entire year. It consists of lightweight piping that can be rotated in a carousel fashion by students and LED grow lights.

Using tilapia’s waste as natural fertilizer, produce can be grown year-round safe from outdoor elements and changing seasons. It’s also hands-on education that teaches more lessons than math, science, and technology. It showcases to kids the power they have to better the world.

“I think it’s great that we’re helping other people. I think it just brings joy to my heart that we’re feeding other people and giving them something to eat,” Zora shared with pride.

“Aquaponics did help me like them more (math and science subjects) because math and science kind of go together and with Aquaponics, since I like plants, it just brought everything together,” Lara expressed.

When Aquaponics was first brought to Holy Cross, five in-house teachers were charged with creating a curriculum to ensure its success. Now that the first harvest is behind them, they’re planning to feed students with it through the cafeteria. Then they’ll offer what’s remaining to the local Daily Bread Soup Kitchen and St. Vincent Depaul Food Pantry, both located in Champaign.

Holy Cross School expected its towers to be running at full capacity by the start of 2023. The Champaign Rotary Club is also a sponsor of the project and will write grants to non-profits or educational facilities that want a tower of their own. They just need to apply for the grants and explain why the towers would be beneficial to their group.

These towers are also made in Champaign at the manufacturing site located at #2 Hensen Place, one mile north of Holy Cross. Organizations like the Peoria Diocese were working on getting the towers for their youth. The Don Moyer Boys & Girls Club has its own tower in the front play area.

For more on Sky-High Aquaponics and its mission of sustainability worldwide, click here.

Zora and Lara also shared with me that today, in honor of National Bullying Prevention Month in October, they’ll be joining their peers in wearing orange t-shirts to show support and bring awareness.