Next Level Gardening
RighTrac Inc, a company founded by George Brooks Jr. and James Hicks, is spreading the word into schools by putting labs in the hands of the students.
Aquaponics is cultivation of fish and plants in a constructed, re-circulating ecosystem, utilizing natural bacterial cycles to convert fish wastes into nutrients for the plants.
In these labs, students will learn a lot more than about fish and plants. By using this special ecosystem, their teachers will instruct them about science, technology, engineering and math. Called STEM, this type of education is taking root across the country.
“It’s integrated. It’s not teaching to the test,” said Brooks. “It’s a complete understanding of how things work.”
The company currently has two of the systems in place, one in the Roosevelt School District at 10th and Baseline and one at the Valley View Orchard Learning Center at 911 W. Baseline.
Brooks and Hicks have been targeting education for the past two years.
“We did a large project on the Gila River Indian Community. We were able to take those kids to an international science fair where they won fourth place in the world,” he said. With the Roosevelt School District, the concept came up and they took it to heart,” he said. “They were extremely positive.”
“We are obviously eager to begin the learning experience for the kids,” said Joseph Ortiz, director of public and community relations for the Roosevelt School District. “I think we are going to have some tilapia swimming around and maybe even some prawns.”
Ortiz said when people think of growing vegetables, they think of growing them in the ground.
“This is thinking outside the box. This might be another way to grow everything,” he said. “This is a way of showing kids the technology and how science is involved in this.”
Children can also learn about nutrition and how to cook what they have grown in their own classrooms, Ortiz said.
Brooks said the units are smaller for educational purposes. They are circular and about 10 feet across.
He said that since “sustainability” seems to be the word of the day, the method would work for growing food on a larger scale and a home unit could cost less than $1,000.
“It uses 10 percent of the water a normal farm does and can be used in the desert or even a parking lot where there is no soil,” he said
Brooks is the son of civil rights crusader George Brooks Sr., and Lula Brooks, a microbiologist.
“I am a native of South Phoenix, born and raised,” he said.
He got his first degree in zoology, but couldn’t find many jobs that required that type of degree. He went back to school, earned a degree in marine biology and earned his doctorate in Urban Farming from the University of Arizona.
“I always had an interest in fish. I thought I would become a marine biologist and eventually I did,” he said.
He and Hicks hope in the future to expand the business into more schools to run a full-scale aquaponic farm.
To learn more about the company or aquaponics call Brooks at (602) 363-1677.