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Your Chicago: CCA Academy And ‘Aquaponics’

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Rob Johnson Rob Johnson
Rob Johnson is the weekday anchor of the CBS 2 Chicago evening...
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(CBS) – In Chicago and around the country, communities are trying to improve their look and get rid of blight while developing urban-farming techniques.

Now, Chicago schools are learning how to grow food indoors using fish to grow plants.

At CCA Academy, a charter school on the West Side, they’re trying something new: aquaponics. It’s the brainchild of urban planning expert Emmanuel Pratt, who runs Chicago State’s aquaponics program.

“When you feed the fish, they eat, they excrete, they create a waste that actually is a fertilizer source for the plants which then filter the water to go back to the fish, in a recirculating, balanced ecosystem,” he tells CBS 2’s Rob Johnson.

In tank after tank at CCA — some big, some small — the principles of aquaponics are being put to the test.

Nancy Zook helps run the program and has seen a real transformation in her students.

“When they start working with these systems, they get that excitement back, that curiosity back from when they were little kids and when you see those moments happen, that’s really special,” she says.

This hands-on experience has helped the budding urban farmers learn the finer points of nitrates, ph levels and the nitrogen cycle.

Right now, they’re growing basil, thyme and strawberries.

“I really didn’t know too much about fish or the plants and how they help each other,” senior Jasmine Hassell says.

The aquaponics program is paid for in large part thanks to organizations like the MacArthur Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ten more schools are looking to add it, too.

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