To provide quality STEM education opportunities in the Steelton-Highspire School District, help facilitate the production of healthy, nutritious food in a food desert, and assist the school district in exploring new revenue streams.

INTAG’s systems, expertise, and consulting built the foundation for a thriving 2,700 square-foot aquaponics greenhouse and STEM program that includes job training, summer skills programs, internships, and research and development. Students sell produce to a large health system and local chefs and restaurants.

In 2015, the INTAG team of engineers, scientists, and teachers conducted a site survey analysis, consulted with the school district and multiple community stakeholders in central Pennsylvania to design and build a multi-purpose aquaponics living laboratory. The closed-loop system produces no discharge or waste and uses no pesticides or synthetic chemicals, all advantages and significant considerations in educational environments. INTAG built the facility in two weeks and it was fully operational within days. It houses a tilapia tank and two 2’x25′ media beds capable of growing hundreds of pounds of produce year-round and more than 30 types of vegetables and fruits. The INTAG system provides a rich platform for agricultural and biological research, educational programming, skills training, food production, and community involvement.

Since 2015, more than 100 students and a dozen teachers have engaged with the Steelton-Highspire School District Aquaponics Learning Center through:

  • School to Table™ programming including summer internships, entrepreneurship workshops, business classes related to greenhouse operations
  • High school classroom aquaponics elective and dual enrollment in college courses
  • Credit-bearing professional development for teachers of STEM subjects
  • Higher education partnerships with Temple University, Harrisburg University, and Messiah College
  • Emotional support programs
  • After-school and summer jobs

Through School to Table™, the Steel-High program has helped generate a regional impact of more than $2.2 million.

More than a dozen organizations provide support, resources, or community awareness for the the Steelton-Highspire School District Aquaponics Learning Center including: The Wheelhouse, The Roller Foundation, UPMC Pinnacle, SCPa Works, PA Department of Community and Economic Development, Chartwells, Dauphin County Department of Community and Economic Development, ResCare, PA Department of Agriculture, PA Department of Education, Borough of Steelton, and Borough of Highspire.


How does it work without soil?

An INTAG system uses various methods, such as stone beds and floating rafts to give plants access to nutrients that are naturally balanced throughout the water. Replicating natural processes ensures that nutrients and even microbial life are prevalent in the system which is beneficial in creating healthy plants.

Food from a well designed aquaponic system has all the macronutrients and micronutrients that food grown in typical soil does. In many cases, aquaponic produce has even more nutrients than soil-grown produce. This is due to farmland having so many nutrients gradually depleted from the soil through planting and harvesting over time.

Aquaponics vs. hydroponics

Aquaponics is a specialization within the field of hydroponics. The short, and simple, way of explaining the differences between the two is: aquaponics uses fish that provide the nutrients to the plants, and hydroponics uses a chemist to add the nutrients for the plants.

Plants need 16 different nutrients to grow. In hydroponics, these 16 nutrients, along with over 15 other ingredients, need to be mixed by a chemist to create a solution. In aquaponics, all 16 essential macro and micro nutrients and everything else the plants need occur naturally (with the exception of adding iron) by replicating processes from nature. The result is superior nutrient quality and better taste from a well-designed aquaponic system.


To design and build a state-of-the-art experiential STEM living laboratory and production facility at Philadelphia’s W.B. Saul High School, the largest agricultural farm school in the United States.

In April 2017, INTAG built a 600-square foot custom aquaponics system in the aquaculture room of Saul’s agriculture building. With the installation, Saul launched robust, hands-on programs and accompanying curriculum for STEM education, hard sciences (biology, chemistry, environmental science), agricultural technology, data analytics, entrepreneurship, marketing, and more. Additionally, the system is capable of producing more than 1,000 heads of lettuce each month, which along with herbs and other greens, are used in the school cafeteria or sold to a local community supported agriculture (CSA) organization. The wheelchair accessible build provides a living laboratory experience for a diverse student population. The $150,000 project included the construction of the hardware, accompanying curriculum, and teacher support and training, with funding from state grants and private industry.

W. B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences is a magnet school serving more than 500 students on a 130-acre campus in the upper Roxborough section of Philadelphia. The multi-building complex includes an arboretum and athletic fields, golf course, nursery, field crops, pasture area for the livestock, and a working farm which houses poultry, dairy, swine, sheep, horses. Food Moxie (the organization formerly known as Weaver’s Way Community Programs) runs a seasonal farm market (from May through October) on site that has become a food hub for the community.

Saul has the largest Future Farmers of America (FFA) chapter in Pennsylvania and one of the largest in the United States. Saul’s INTAG system sets the standard for dual purpose aquaponic systems (production and education) that deliver on a diverse set of curriculum requirements. The school also plans to partner with three Pennsylvania colleges and universities, via articulation agreements, to offer dual enrollment programs.

The INTAG system includes a 210 gallon tilapia tank, media bed, float bed, and four-tier vertical set of nutrient film technique (NFT) grow gutters. There is no discharge or waste with the closed loop system, and no pesticides or synthetic chemicals are used. Pure, natural food grows 60% faster and with 95% less water than traditional farming.



To build custom systems that provide a consistent supply of fresh, organically grown, hard-to-source products for The Garlic Poet restaurant and The JDK Group catering operations.

After an initial site analysis and planning, INTAG designed two custom aquaponics systems within a former bank retail space turned urban garden and event venue, Ladder & Vine. The systems provide a continual supply of microgreens (350 lbs per month) and other traditionally high-price-point products like edible flowers, while also seamlessly integrating into the interior design aesthetics of a unique event space.

Innovative chefs and restaurateurs face the continual problem of adequate sourcing. They seek the ability to find consistency of product in the appropriate, variable quantities year-round. The chefs and business owners of The JDK Group, a US Top 50 Catering Company, and The Garlic Poet, an inventive, award-winning restaurant in central Pennsylvania, approached INTAG for a long term solution to quickly and efficiently source hard-to-find and traditionally high-priced ingredients. INTAG designed and installed two aquaponics systems within Ladder & Vine. The systems allow chefs to grow on demand to meet event, artistic, and seasonal needs — and vertically integrate the production of micro-greens, lettuces, edible flowers, and specialty produce for use by all of their chefs, restaurants, and event venue operations.

The systems also help the chefs and restaurateurs fulfill their commitment to providing patrons with the ultra fresh, high-nutrient, locally grown produce — without a carbon footprint or added logistics. The staff harvests on-site or within several miles of an event. The closed loop aquaponics systems produce no discharge or waste and use no pesticides or synthetic chemicals, yielding organically grown, beautiful produce that grows 60% faster and with 95% less water than traditional farming. INTAG’s intuitive design enables exceptionally simple ease of use and maintenance.

The two aquaponics systems span 1000 square feet with 500 square feet of grow area and include 210 gallon fish tanks, media beds, float beds, and vertical tower arrays.

In the fall of 2017, Ladder & Vine will offer part of its facility for education and laboratory use for a local high school. One of the media beds will be used as part of an alternative education program once a week, as well as the field site for a high school biology class once a week.