Sometimes, long drives with lots of space for thought can be a good thing.

For Tourism Management student Ben Glassen, a 15-hour drive back from a California holiday this summer was the start of what may become a future career.

“I was thinking about the drought and sustainable entrepreneurship,” says Ben. “About what kind of sustainable technologies I might be interested in getting into, and how fish farming is so controversial on B.C. coasts.” The reverie left him with a lot of unanswered—but nevertheless interesting—questions.

In a providential twist of fate, that same week Ben was invited to visit a “fish farm” run by a friend in the town of Hope. The operation turned out to be an aquaponics farm, and it was there that the answers to Ben’s unanswered questions suddenly became clear.

“I was standing there realizing, ‘Okay—how do you do sustainable fish farming? This is how. All the waste from the fish grows all this food,’” Ben says.

“I just could not believe my eyes, how exciting and how sustainable and how simple this technology was, in order to produce hyper-organic, hyper-sustainable, symbiotic, closed-loop system food.”

Innovative thinking

It was this realization that lead Ben to become one of three recipients from across the nation of a $5,000 Chartwells Campus Projects grant on October 28. Capilano University’s new food provider, Chartwells, chose Ben’s proposal out of 23 project submissions from 15 campuses in which they operate across Canada.

According to Chartwells, the proposal’s success is due to the “innovation and collaboration” the project demonstrates, in addition to its potential for “academic and educational purposes.”

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You Grow Food aquaponics in Hope, B.C. Photo: Ben Glassen

As the previous CSU Faculty Rep for Global and Community Studies, the Bachelor of Tourism Management student currently sits on the Capilano University Senate.

He recently was one of four Cap U winners of the LinkBC Tourism Case Competition and earlier this year, he managed the #iLoveCapU campaign this fall to encourage positive vibes on campus.

Aquaponics on campus

Although he officially completes his Tourism degree in December, Ben plans to stick around in his several roles, not the least of which is as the convener of the new CSU Chartwells Aquaponics Club. Club members will implement an “Aquaponics Demonstration Workbench” on campus to show that this kind of sustainable food production is both viable and valuable.

The project will use the grant money to obtain and run an aquaponics system over the next five years. Members of the Aquaponics Club will maintain the Grow 36 system, in addition to presenting workshops on aquaponics technology to students in biology, natural history, environmental stewardship and other courses at the aquaponics demonstration workbench site.

Aquaponics’ unique technology uses fish waste to grow vegetables in a closed loop, recirculating system. Ben says he anticipates the Cap system housing twenty tilapia fish. Dirty water from the tilapia waste is channeled into the plant beds, where bacteria convert the ammonia from the waste into nitrites. The nitrites become nitrates, acting as plant fertilizer.

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Photo: Ben Glassen

Both the tilapia fish and the leafy green vegetables grown in the beds will be used by Chartwells in an Aquaponics Club-sponsored “Fish Taco Tuesday” once per term. The result: sustainable food production on campus, with the ultimate long-term goal of a campus-based commercial aquaponics farm.

Sustainability tourism

In fact, the concept has so grabbed Ben that he hopes to eventually implement commercial aquaponics on a large-scale farm of his own, making it an eco-tourism attraction. In fact, it’s an idea on which he is basing his Tourism 440 graduating paper.

“I see no better use of time than sustainable technology,” Ben says. “The aquaponics [technology] has turned me back to pursuing sustainability entrepreneurship and sustainable food.”

Ben admits that his classmates may be hearing quite a lot about the subject. “I’m sorry to my classmates for talking about aquaponics so much,” he says with a rueful laugh, noting that his instructors have now started using his aquaponics vision in class examples. “I’m also sorry to my teachers,” he says, noting poor grades on reports as a result of time spent focusing on the Chartwells proposal.

Sometimes, a long drive can help you focus on the most important things.

“Sustainable food systems may be the most important thing in a world faced with increasing rates of climate change,” says Ben.

Submitted by Marketing & Communications

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Those wanting to learn more about aquaponics can attend a workshop this Saturday, November 21, from noon to 4 p.m. at the You Grow Food Aquaponics greenhouse in Hope, B.C.

To learn more about Tourism at Cap U, don’t miss the Tourism and Outdoor Recreation Info Night on December 7.

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