Theo Willis, a University of Southern Maine (USM) associate research faculty in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, was recently featured in a WGME 13 piece on aquaponics and sustainability.
WGME reporter Dustin Bonk traveled to USM’s aquaponics lab, set up in Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus, to interview Willis about the produce the lab grows for USM’s dining services. This academic year, the lab has sent over 85 pounds of produce to Sodexo, which aims to use as much locally-grown food that it can.
"It's organic, it's local, it's fresh produce, it's available in winter. It's all win-wins," Willis, who runs the aquaponics lab, told Bonk.
Aquaponics is a system that combines conventional aquaculture — raising fish and other aquatic creatures in tanks — with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).
As water travels from fish tanks, set below a plant grow bed, beneficial bacteria transform nitrogenous fish waste (in the form of ammonia) to nitrate, which is then used by plants, which then return clean water to the fish tanks.
USM’s aquaponics lab contains 10 different tanks, totaling over 1,000 gallons of water, containing tilapia. The lab grows lettuces, herbs (like parsley) and bell peppers.
Then-USM student Luke Mango (who recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science at USM’s 139th Commencement) also spoke to Bonk about his experience studying in the aquaponics lab.
"I love working with my hands. I love agriculture, the ability to farm. I love fish … It definitely gets to integrate all those different components, all those different traits into one potential career," said Mango, said he plans to pursue a career related to aquaponics.
Aquaponics is a burgeoning field in Maine.
This spring, USM offered a new, online course in land-based aquaculture, which Willis has previously said was spawned by demand.
USM partnered with Whole Oceans, a company planning on bringing a land-based salmon farm to Bucksport on the site of the now-closed Verso Paper Mill, to offer the course.
Watch the entire WGME feature on their website.