Culinary Grade 11 students Nicholas Wolfe

Culinary Grade 11 students Nicholas Wolfe

Students raise fish, then eat them

Allison Stevenson doesn’t think she’ll have a problem catching a fish from the tank, scraping off its scales, pulling out its bones and serving it for lunch in the school cafeteria. Just as long as it’s not the disabled little swimmer some fellow students have named Winky.

EDMONTON — Allison Stevenson doesn’t think she’ll have a problem catching a fish from the tank, scraping off its scales, pulling out its bones and serving it for lunch in the school cafeteria.

Just as long as it’s not the disabled little swimmer some fellow students have named Winky.

“I don’t think we should eat the one that has one eye,” says Stevenson, a Grade 11 student at Edmonton’s Jasper Place High School.

“It’s special. He’s like our classroom pet.”

Their teacher warned them about getting attached to the 100 tilapia donated by an Alberta fish farm and transported to the school in early December. By spring, the fish will be full-sized and destined for a frying pan.

It’s all part of a unique project that teaches students about the cycle of life, the environment and the food they eat.

Hydroponic grow beds with vegetables and herbs sit on top of the school’s largest fish tank. Through various hoses, water and waste from the fish feed the plants. The plants clean water that’s returned to the fish tank. And scraps of vegetables left over from cooking are then fed to the fish.

It’s a big idea that takes place in a small corner of the school’s culinary classroom.

Grade 12 student Dakota Laboucane takes a break from baking cookies to give the fish some wilting, shredded lettuce.

He’s already coming up with mouth-watering recipes for using the flaky, white flesh in fish tacos and a version of coconut barramundi.

“All of it will be fresh and used the same day,” says the 17-year-old, who wants to train as a professional chef after he graduates.

Through the culinary program, students get credit for college apprenticeship. They spend hours in the school’s commercial-style kitchen cooking a healthy lunch each day for 2,500 students and staff. As if they weren’t busy enough, they also do catering on the side.

Now they’re hooked on fish.

“I think that having a fresh, healthy food source is a really great idea,” says Laboucane. “A lot of students don’t have enough fish in their diets.”

He admits he is one.

Teacher Dustin Bajer spearheaded the project, after first helping the school establish a rooftop greenhouse as well as a farm forest in the courtyard that was once populated by smokers.

With help from 15 regular members of the school’s permaculture club, the gardens yield dozens of different plants — everything from tomatoes and zucchini to, they hope someday soon, grapes and kiwi fruit. And it all goes to the school’s kitchen.

Bajer says the food project casts a wide enough net to teach most people in the school some lessons.

The permaculture and culinary students are primarily taking care of the fish and plants. But because there are so many fish, and they’re growing bigger, some are also swimming in tanks in a computer technology classroom.

Chemistry students have been tasked with doing research into the science that makes the tiny eco system work, says Bajer.

And there’s even a bit of sex education. Students are trying to identify the female fish and get them to breed.

The idea is to never run out of fish and eventually add new flavours to the tanks. The school has a commercial fishing licence that allows them to expand their tiny water farm to include other types of fish like salmon, eel and prawns.

And there could be more related projects on the way. Bajer says students are thinking big — Moby Dick big.

Some have talked about putting bicycle-powered generators in the school’s cafe to charge their cellphones and laptops. So why not produce energy to make their food?

“There’s a fitness centre here. There are spin classes. How many generators could we get going? Could we basically produce enough electricity to at least offset the costs of the lights for the aquaponics system?” asks Bajer.

“Then it’s off the grid.”

He jokes that the school could lock its doors and everyone inside would survive on their own, eating fish and vegetables.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Seniors in the 65-unit Piper Creek Lodge are among those waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Central Alberta senior lodges anxiously waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations

“Should be at the front of the line, not the back of the line”

Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau says the COVID-19 pandemic has brought on many challenges for the food processing industry. (File photo by The Canadian Press)
Feds invest millions to improve safety: Red Deer’s Olymel to receive up to $1.6 million

The federal government has announced funding for meat processing companies across the… Continue reading

The City of Red Deer has announced spring road bans starting March 8. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Spring road bans coming next week in Red Deer

Bans in place until further notice

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Pictured here is Stettler’s Jenner Smith with a guide dog from Aspen Service Dogs. An online auction will be running soon to help raise funds for Jenner to receive his very own service dog later this year. Jenner, who is four years old, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019. photo submitted
An online auction is planned to raise funds for a service dog for a Stettler family

Jenner Smith, four, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder in 2019

Team Canada third John Morris follows as second Carter Rycroft (right) and lead Nolan Thiessen (left) sweep his rock during round robin competition against Team Newfoundland and Labrador at the Brier curling championship, Wednesday, March 9, 2016 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Champions at The Brier list

Brier champions since the inception of the Canadian men’s curling championship in… Continue reading

FILE - This Jan. 22, 2013 file photo shows Martin Bashir at the EA SimCity Learn. Build. Create. Inauguration After-Party, in Washington. British police said Thursday March 4, 2021, that they will not launch a criminal investigation into the journalist Martin Bashir over his 1995 interview with the late Princess Diana. (Photo by Nick Wass/Invision/AP, File)
UK police won’t probe journalist over 1995 Diana interview

Diana’s brother alleged Bashir used false documents to convince Diana

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Dillon Dube scores hat trick for Flames in 7-3 win over Senators

Liverpool's manager Jurgen Klopp gives instructions during the English Premier League soccer match between Liverpool and Chelsea at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Phil Noble, Pool via AP)
Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Liverpool slumps to historic 5th straight loss at Anfield

Philadelphia Flyers' Sean Couturier (14) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Tristan Jarry (35) during the first period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Flyers rally from early deficit to stun Penguins 4-3

Most Read