Hands eagerly shot up in the air when organizers asked who wanted to help plant seeds in the new aquaponics garden system in Orange Grove Center's cafeteria Thursday afternoon.
Center clients with developmental disabilities gathered around the sustainable system, helping to plant seeds and watching the catfish swim in the tank below the garden.
The aquaponics system, donated to Orange Grove by HATponics, is designed to be a sustainable food source.
"Upkeep is simple; feed the fish, plant the plants, and be sure to eat your vegetables," said Ryan Cox, founder and CEO of HATponics. Cox helped individuals plant beans, squash, spinach, peppers and tomatoes in the garden, while explaining how the waste produced by the fish would be the nutrients that allowed the vegetables to grow.
"We will train a staff member at Orange Grove how to take care of the system," Cox said. "We are here to support and make sure that the community has what it needs to be conducive and sustainable on all levels."
Orange Grove plans to use the system for educational and therapeutic purposes with clients at the center, and the food it provides will be used to feed people at one of the organization's group homes.
The system should produce enough food to feed a family of four a vegetable a day and a meal of fish a week, Cox said.
"We are always looking for ways to combine therapy with sustainability," said Dr. Rick Rader, director of the Morton J. Kent Habilitation Center at Orange Grove.
"A system like this will not only teach our individuals about agriculture, but it is also a way to teach responsibility and cause and effect," he said.
Rader plans to use the system to help those at the center through a variety of ways. People can learn to count with the rocks in the garden, to feel textures and shapes, and everyone will enjoy the calming noise of the running water in the fish tank, he said.
The aquaponics system was donated to Orange Grove by HATponics as a result of the purchase of a system at Orchard Knob Elementary School. Lori Cleveland, an exceptional education teacher at Orchard Knob, bought a system for the school with help from a grant from the Junior League of Chattanooga.
That purchase made it possible for HATponics to donate the system to Orange Grove, Cox said.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at email@example.com or at 423-757-6592.