Students at Kangaroo Island Community Education’s Parndana Campus have created a groundbreaking ‘aquaponics’ project, which now provides sustainably produced barramundi and a range of hydroponic herbs to Southern Ocean Lodge to the delight of the kitchen team and the relish of its guests.
Established in 2004, the school’s Rural Production facility incorporates aquaculture, agriculture and horticulture. The aquaculture project has become a commercially successful producer of sustainable barramundi and fresh hydroponic herbs over its 10 year development.
The project initially captured the attention of former Southern Ocean Lodge Head Chef Tim Bourke as he prepared for the opening of Kangaroo Island’s luxury lodge in 2008. Tim set about working closely with the students to arrange supply of the school’s barramundi, herbs, edible flowers and lettuce for its daily-changing menus.
As a very cool rural education success story, the project is increasingly drawing interest from specialist food groups and the media alike.
With the help of the Rural Production teacher Barbara Cooper and Aquaculture & Groundsman Daniel Dunstan, the students have been able to get a very hands-on experience of the aquaculture project, an initiative that has proven to be richly rewarding to everyone involved.
A recirculated barramundi farm has been established inside a temperature-controlled shed on the school grounds, comprising a series of pools which house the fish from fingerlings to full-sized fish ready for harvesting. The barramundi are graded by age and size in each pool where they are fed a ‘barra feed’ composite supplied by Skrettings sustainable feeds in Tasmania.
The project not only produces barramundi and herbs but is also remarkably water-friendly, as water is re-used three times over the aquaponics process. First up, the pools are filtered with continuously flowing fresh water to keep the barramundi active. Next, the waste water from the pools is filtered through pipes to a glass house outside, where a series of pipes with cut outs fit rows of hydroponic plants that are nourished by, and in turn cleanse the waste water. Once it’s passed through the hydroponics system, the water is then filtered to paddocks outside, where the school’s horticulture students raise sheep and tend a vegetable patch.
Southern Ocean Lodge remains the school’s largest customer. The team in the kitchen has steadily increased its orders of barramundi over time, and has worked with the students to introduce special requests for herbs. The relationship between the school and the lodge has flourished as everyone embraces the possibilities on offer to both the students and the lodge. Deliveries from the school now come in boxes decorated with colourful pictures drawn by the infant school children.
Buoyed by this sustained commercial support the facility now incorporates with a new food processing centre, dedicated classroom and dining room with a ‘paddock to plate’ experience of the school’s produce imagined for visiting customers. The school’s syllabus will expand accordingly to offer students more practical culinary skills including baking, fish-smoking and coffee service for a broader experience of the possibilities of sustainable produce and tourism. In a fitting accolade, Barbara is the recent winner of the 2015 Fleurieu and Kangaroo Island Women’s Community Awards for her contribution to the region’s agriculture. Congratulations Barb!