Aquaponics firm, CREC bring indoor farming to CT schools

Spencer Curry CEO and Co-founder, Trifecta Ecosystems Inc.
Q&A talks to Spencer Curry, CEO and co-founder of Trifecta Ecosystems Inc., a Meriden-based aquaponics company.

Q. Trifecta Ecosystems Inc. announced earlier this year a partnership with the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) to introduce the field of aquaponics to students in Connecticut schools. What is aquaponics and what does the partnership entail?

A. Aquaponics is the growing of fish, plants and beneficial bacteria in one system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the bacteria, the bacteria converts that waste into nutrients for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish by using those nutrients. Trifecta Ecosystems uses aquaponics to grow fresh, sustainable food, and to provide education, therapy and skill-training to individuals year-round in Connecticut.

Our partnership with CREC is based on our mission to create the "City that Feeds Itself" by enhancing Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for schools, and increasing impactful learning opportunities for students and individuals of all ages. Within our partnership, we will be implementing our aquaponics systems — the aGrow and the aGarde — into even more schools across Connecticut, and will produce a NGSS-compliant curriculum to go with these systems. We will also be hosting an array of educational and professional development events for teachers and students.

Q. The aquaponics systems will be rolled out and taught in conjunction with a Next Generation Science Standards curriculum. What is the NGSS curriculum?

A. The NGSS are K-12 science content standards. Standards set the expectations for what students should know and be able to do. The NGSS were developed by states to improve science education for all students. These standards give local educators the flexibility to design classroom learning experiences that stimulate students' interests in science and prepares them for college, careers and citizenship.

Our NGSS curriculum is specifically designed to be used with our aquaponics systems, and gives students a hands-on, valuable experience with aquaponics. The curriculum shows students how to grow their own food and how this kind of sustainable farming can have a larger impact on their lives, community and local food system.

Q. What does Trifecta Ecosystems get out of this partnership?

A. As a Connecticut Benefit Corporation, part of our mission is to strengthen the development of our communities using aquaponics. Using aquaponics to foster educational growth and inspire students to engage in the classroom is a big part of our social mission.

Our collaboration with CREC provides us with a foundation to showcase the potential of aquaponics as a learning tool. CREC was also integral in helping us develop our curriculum to meet NGSS standards through their expertise in curriculum development. This partnership will also allow us to utilize CREC's sales channels to make contacts and connections with other schools within the state and their network.

Q. How big is the aquaponics industry in Connecticut? What's its future growth potential?

A. The aquaponics industry in Connecticut is currently fairly small. We are the only aquaponics technology company that is offering aquaponics systems and services to schools, adult resource centers, and skill-training programs.

There are, however, quite a few projects in the works that are pushing to expand aquaponics farming throughout Connecticut. We are working with a number of organizations on building their first large-scale, commercial aquaponics farms, and see a bright future for aquaponics in our state.

There are many spaces, like ours in Meriden, that are empty, unused buildings waiting for another chance at life and this form of indoor farming can be performed in myriad spaces, which allows for much faster and more efficient growth than traditional farming.

Q. From a workforce development perspective, does Trifecta have a hard time finding qualified workers versed in a STEM background?

A. As this industry grows both here in the state and around the country, finding highly qualified workers with a STEM background and a familiarity with aquaponics is definitely becoming increasingly difficult. It's one of the reasons we are motivated to introduce aquaponics as a learning tool in the classroom, to inspire kids to learn and provide a career path in a burgeoning industry.