INTAG Aquaponic Systems Spur Opportunities for Collaboration in Training

Oley, PA
December 10, 2019

Going on its fourth year with INTAG Natural Nutrient Systems (INNS) in their greenhouse learning environment, students enrolled in the Berks County Career and Technology Horticulture program have been reliably producing a variety of crops including tomatoes, strawberries, cilantro, chives, basil, pineapple, lettuce, kale and edible flowers. All of the produce is used within the Berks Career & Technology Center, by students in the culinary program, in the school’s own kitchen, and in semi-annual plant sales.

“The aquaponic systems have become an integral part of our greenhouse and a tremendous resource for my horticulture students to collaborate with their counterparts in other programs. The experiences our students have in learning from each other is invaluable and the aquaponic systems are an ideal vehicle for that. It was a great investment,” said Kelly Piccioni, Horticulture Instructor at the Berks County Career and Technology Center.

INTAG designed and installed two aquaponic systems for the Berks County Horticulture program, each utilizing tilapia as an organic waste stream to provide essential nutrients. The horticulture students are responsible for managing the health of the fish population, managing crop rotations, and pest control, as well as harvesting and packaging for delivery. They are learning the rigors of entrepreneurship by working directly with end customers who rely on the program as they would rely on any other supplier.

The aquaponic systems have also been a resource for instructors from other career programs within the Berks County Career and Technology Center such as culinary, Building Construction, Carpentry, Electrical, HVAC and Plumbing to provide hands on opportunities. 

Controlled Environment Agriculture facilities offer unique opportunities for workforce development solutions that deliver technical and vocational training content for the development of skills in food, agriculture, and related technologies. Project-based learning, combined with diverse and relevant technologies provides students and trainees from any background with a rare talent ramp for developing both entry-level and advanced skill sets in a cross-functional setting.

Due to the traditions around, and perceived strengths of, existing workforce training techniques — such as the U.S. Department of Labor models that are disseminated via registered apprenticeships, programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and other methods — there are gaps relative to today’s rapidly deployable tech fields. This is alarmingly evident in the field of food and agriculture. There are significant skills shortages because innovation is outpacing existing training modalities.