EL PASO, Texas - Tuesday El Paso Community College held a ceremony to showcase a new laboratory -- but it isn't a science lab, it's a self sustaining aquaponics lab that is maintained by EPCC's culinary program.
It's a concept some say is fairly unknown in far West Texas. Instructors say El Paso's future chefs will have an upper hand in organic, eco-friendly, self-sustaining farming practices.
From the outside it looks like a typical greenhouse.
Yes you'll see some lettuce growing or basil ready to plant but fish in a tank?
"It's not just about making food it's about showing students where the food comes from," said EPCC culinary instructor Jesus Lugo.
Lugo explains it isn't an ordinary greenhouse.
The greenhouse is a aquaponics greenhouse that incorporates fish farming with produce farming.
EPCC officials say it uses a lot less water than traditional farming and can be sustainable and eco-friendly.
Students begin with maintaining fish such as tilapia in a tank, then they set up herbs and other plants like lettuce to grow.
The wastewater from the fish is piped to the plants. The nutrients from the water help the plants grow and some of those plants are used to feed the fish. It's a continuous cycle.
Culinary students are involved every step of the process.
"They take care of the greenhouse, they take care of the fish, they take care of feeding them watering them, making sure that their chemicals are correct, they pick the weeds, so it is a labor of love," Lugo said.
The Green Advantage aquaponics greenhouse was paid for by a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture and the University of Texas at El Paso with a cost of $220,000.
The food served at the ceremony was made with herbs grown in the aquaponics green house and although it's still in the beginning stages Lugo is already thinking of future possibilities.
"Once we get the vegetables going we want to have a farmers market and students can prepare food and show them what we can do with the food we are growing," Lugo said.
The greenhouse uses solar power to run some of the equipment. It isn't 100 percent sustainable yet but they say it will be soon. And, when they are fully grown, the tilapia will be up for dinner too.