FabFarm created to teach aquaponics to the masses

20 Sep 2016

Aquaponics. Image: Shutterstock

An aquaponics farm has been created in Derry for 100 schoolkids to learn the science behind the why, whats and hows of fish-powered plant growth.

Aquaponics combines aquaculture (raising fish in tanks) and hydroponics (growing plants in water). Basically, it involves fish swimming below plants, creating ammonia through their waste output, which then converts into nitrate to feed the plants above.

A new Comic Relief-funded initiative in Northern Ireland is looking to increase awareness in this niche area, while also stretching into a ‘digital’ future.

100 young people will be involved in an aquaponic digital farm, from initial concept and design to its build and maintenance.


Called The FabFarm, it will combine aquaponics with new digital fabrication techniques and equipment.

It will bring together students from Ardnashee School and College, Nerve Centre’s FabLab in Derry and The Playtrail, which will host the project.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for young students at the Playtrail and Ardnashee College to advance their skills in digital technology and design, programming and electronics, all of which will equip them for the modern workplace,” said John Peto, director of education at Nerve Centre.

“Through the project they will also be taught about the importance of food production, social enterprise and technology, in a very hands-on way. We don’t know of anyone else in the world that is doing this yet – not only operating an aquaponic farm but designing and building it themselves. We are very proud that this is happening here in Derry before anywhere else.”

Students will receive hands-on training and experience in a range of digital design and making techniques, with hopes that they can design, build and maintain an aquaponics farm of their own.

Each study unit will be created and built by the students, using 3D printers and laser cutters, with the plan to grow vegetables successfully from the outset. The project is so community-based, in fact, that local restaurant The Sooty Olive has already signed up to be the group’s first customer.

“The exciting FabFarm project and new aquaponic system will allow us to develop further our relationship with the Playtrail, with the opportunity of increasing more quality local produce for use in the restaurant,” said Sean Harrigan of The Sooty Olive.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic