Nation’s Largest Public Educational Aquaponics Facility Opens In Pennsylvania

A sustainable, zero-waste ecosystem, AgWorks at CCA uses fish to fertilize plants, bio-controls in place of pesticides, and solar panels supply energy to power the facility.

Commonwealth Charter Academy (CCA), a Pennsylvania public cyber charter school, has officially unveiled AgWorks at CCA, the largest public educational aquaponics facility in the country. AgWorks at CCA will provide students with hands-on learning experiences in a 6,100-square-foot, state-of-the-art controlled environment agriculture center located at CCA’s Capital Campus in Harrisburg.

aquaponics facility
AgWorks at CCA

The living, learning laboratory, funded through a federal grant, is among the tools CCA uses to teach about and train students for careers in various fields including agriculture, environmental science, and trades, through curriculum and partnerships with local businesses. Under the guidance of teachers and horticulture experts, students manage the AgWorks at CCA facility by growing and maintaining nearly 3,000 plants and approximately 400 fish, all while learning about aquaponics, hydroponics, and aeroponics. Students also will have access to three labs to conduct scientific experiments in the areas of research, genetics, and culturing tissue.

Students will have the opportunity to grow and harvest organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs including avocados, bananas, lettuce, microgreens, and basil. They also will have the opportunity to raise and maintain tilapia, koi, and prawn, which play an important part in the aquaponics lifecycle. The produce harvested at AgWorks at CCA is already being donated to feed local communities or sold to retailers and restaurants including the Hilton Harrisburg.

“In order to know how to prepare students with the education and skills they need for careers, we as educators must work with the business community to identify where the workforce is headed,” said Tom Longenecker, COO of CCA. “With AgWorks at CCA, we are identifying partners statewide that want to contribute to a student’s education by helping to advance it through real-life experiences, because we know that the jobs of today will not necessarily be the jobs of tomorrow – that is why students need to prepare now.”

The AgWorks at CCA facility is a sustainable, zero-waste ecosystem. It uses fish to fertilize plants, resulting in higher yields of produce than traditional agriculture. Bio-controls are used in place of pesticides, ensuring that the GMO-free produce is free of contaminants. Solar panels located on the roof of CCA’s Capital Campus supplies 100 percent of the energy needed to power the AgWorks at CCA facility.

“For 15 years, CCA has been innovating learning experiences for K-12 students across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Maurice Flurie, CEO of Commonwealth Charter Academy. “CCA is committed to inspiring our students to become productive citizens and AgWorks at CCA gives us another platform for them to learn as we support their journey.”

aquaponics facility
Teacher Daniel Friess collaborates with students Kenya Mitchell and Joshua Cincotta while designing an automatic fish feeder.

AgWorks at CCA is open for other schools, universities, and nonprofit organizations to tour and participate in a variety of educational activities.

“Professionally working in the field of aquaponics is what I want to do for a career,” said Nathaniel Saxe, an 11th-grade CCA student. “This facility is just incredible. What CCA is offering me in high school is something that most colleges aren’t capable of. I’m able to gain more knowledge now and better prepare myself for a career.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Pennsylvania provides nearly 500,000 agriculture and food-related industry jobs across the commonwealth. Between now and 2025, there will be 75,000 new and replacement job openings in Pennsylvania for agriculture and food careers.

“It’s important that the next generation has a vested interest in agriculture so that we can continue to grow sustainable produce for future generations,” said Samantha Johnson, director of aquaponics programs at CCA.