Melissa Malmstedt, education and outreach coordinator for the University of Maine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, works with students. PHOTO COURTESY OF UMAINE

Kids aquaponics program wins national award

ELLSWORTH — The world seemed to get a whole lot smaller for many children during the pandemic. With fewer activities and more time at home, the walls could feel like they were closing in. But one award-winning program showed Maine kids just how much life could spring forth between four walls. 

The 4-H Aquaponics Project, created in partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H, the UMaine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research in Franklin and the UMaine Aquaculture Research Institute, is the recipient of the 2021 Denise Miller National 4-H Innovator Award. The award, presented by the National Association of Extension 4-H Youth Development Professionals, “recognizes an individual or team who exemplifies innovation, accomplishment, and commitment in the design and delivery of a unique 4-H program.” 

4-H youth development professional Carla Scocchi; Melissa Malmstedt, education and outreach coordinator at the Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research; and Scarlett Tudor, education and outreach coordinator at the UMaine Aquaculture Research Institute, together developed an at-home aquaponics program geared for youth ages 9-18. 

“This project illustrates a successful virtual program that sustained a hands-on component on the ground,” Scocchi said. “What defines the 4-H Aquaponics Project as innovative is not only that the experience could be replicated by other 4-H programs, but that it serves as a model for how 4-H can preserve its learn-by-doing approach in the post-pandemic world.” 

Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising marine species) with hydroponics (growing plants in water) to make food. Think a fish tank topped with leafy greens. Nutrients from the fish waste fertilize the plants.  

The program introduces children and teens to aquaponic systems and design, fish husbandry, aquaponic gardening and food preparation.  

“Many of the skills that kids learn in this program are highly transferable to careers within and outside of aquaculture, all of which are extremely important to our workforce in Maine,” said Tudor. 

More information is available on the UMaine Extension 4-H Aquaponics Project website. More information about the 4-H program is available on the UMaine Extension 4-H website, or by contacting (207) 581-3877 or emailing [email protected]. 

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