A large-scale aquaponics project launched by Saint Andrew’s alum Nicholas Metropulos ’17 has set off a ripple of intentionality, generosity, and community spirit among a growing number of SA Alumni.
Metropulos, Executive Director of Marine Education Initiative, an environmental education nonprofit based in Boca Raton, brings community members together to harvest and package the greens that grow in their aquaponics farm. These sustainability cultivated crops include bok choy, romaine, butterhead, swiss chard, and microgreens. They are then delivered to local community-based nonprofits, such as Boca Helping Hands and Palm Beach Habilitation Center in Lake Worth.
“We contribute to 700 meals by harvesting over 250 plants a week,” said Metropulos. “We are able to do this consistently because we plant new crops on a weekly basis.”
The program, now only nine months old, has provided fresh leafy greens to the local feeding centers enabling them to provide 17,000 healthy meals. Metropulos said the goal is to reach about 35,000 meals by the end of the calendar year and, after expanding to a bigger facility, eventually move up to 500,000 meals per year.
Aquaponics farms consist of a symbiotic relationship between fish and plants habitating separate bodies of water. The fish provide nutrients for the plants, while the plants provide clean water for the fish. Both the plants and fish are harvested after they have lived a natural lifecycle. The organization is able to use 95% less water than traditional agriculture with aquaponics by retaining water in a closed loop. This also prevents nutrient pollution from fertilizers washing into our rivers and lakes - the leading cause of algal blooms in Florida.
While Metropulos’ aquaponics farm has raised awareness in the community, it also continues to generate interest from other Saint Andrew’s alumni who support MEI's mission of care in numerous ways.
Saint Andrew’s art teacher and alum Kelsey Schmitt ’07, worked with two other alumni to paint an educational mural depicting the biological harmony and connectivity of the aquaponics process. The mural, designed by alum Elizabeth Zyryanova ’17, and painted by Schmitt, senior Hannah Svirksy, and other SA alums, depicts the aquaponics cycle.
“The mural has been a huge help with the educational aspect of our program,” said Metropulos. “The great thing about aquaponics is that it is mirroring what happens naturally in rivers and lakes.”
Schmitt said she enjoyed working with other SA alumni on a project that was so meaningful and supportive of the local community.
“It’s gathering so many people of different ages to feed a community in need and it gives us all insight into how nature works and how we can model it to produce food,” said Schmitt. “It’s amazing to see a community coming together especially at this time.”