Lacombe students finalists for Emerald Award

Worms, tilapia, and heaps of composting organic waste — three of the elements that could help some Lacombe high school students win a gem of an award.

Worms, tilapia, and heaps of composting organic waste — three of the elements that could help some Lacombe high school students win a gem of an award.

The EcoVision club at Lacombe Composite High School has organized projects over the past few years that have seen herbs being grown in hallways and classrooms, solar panels installed on the school roof, and a geodesic greenhouse set up and trees planted on school land. Those projects — and many others — have led to the group being named a finalist for a 2014 Emerald Award, a provincial honour handed out for environmental sustainability initiatives.

Grade 11 student Shelby Dushanek is one of about a dozen students involved in the initiative. She focuses mostly on worm composting — “It’s cool and gross at the same time” — and growing plants in the school greenhouse. That recently-opened greenhouse boasts the expected — tomatoes and onions — alongside something as exotic as a banana tree.

As part of the student-led group, Dushanek has shared what she knows with students in the city’s elementary schools and is even leading workshops on worm composting and aquaponics for adults. She said the group’s message is that people can do so much more when it comes to green deeds.

“If we start to teach the younger kids how to do it now, they’ll be more interested in it in the future,” she said.

Members of the group have had the chance to attend environmental conferences and last month some went on an ecotourism trip to Costa Rica. Those opportunities to learn have shown them what is possible and helped them to refine their projects.

One of the group’s major initiatives is to establish an aquaponics apparatus in the greenhouse that will see hundreds of tilapia fish and vegetables grown. Those fish and vegetables, along with a variety of herbs, would then be used in the school’s cafeteria.

The goal is to have fish in the barrels and the system operational by the end of the month. Once it is fully-functioning, the group wants to use what is grown to fulfil one of its stated mandates — to collaborate with the broader community.

“We want to make it a wider perspective where we can actually share it with the community of Lacombe and even beyond hopefully,” said Grade 10 student Tizita Hill.

Through their efforts, the students say they also want to educate others and improve the watershed.

The 23rd annual Emerald Awards will be presented in Calgary on June 5. EcoVision is nominated in the schools category, one of 10 categories awards will be presented in.

mfish@bprda.wpengine.com