EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Students of the “farm-to-table” culinary movement will get a boost thanks to grants received by the Perth Amboy and Piscataway campuses of the Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools.

In this case, the farms will be “aquaponic” and outdoor gardens to produce vegetables and spices for the schools’ culinary arts students. Aquaponics involves raising plants and fish simultaneously in a symbiotic relationship.

Perth Amboy Vo-Tech and the School of Career Development on the Piscataway Campus each have received $10,000 grants for the garden projects through Sustainable Jersey for Schools, a nonprofit organization that provides tools, training and financial support for sustainability programs.

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The Perth Amboy grant was underwritten by the New Jersey Education Association, while the Piscataway grant was funded by the PSEG Foundation. The Perth Amboy Campus also has received a $2,000 grant through the Whole Kids Foundation, a philanthropic arm of Whole Foods Market.

At a grant-announcement event March 21, Piscataway School of Career Development Principal Brian Bilal said the gardening effort would involve culinary and building maintenance students, as well as science classes.  

“We’re getting a whole host of career majors and academic classes involved,” he said. “We’re going to see what it takes to have sustainable agriculture from start to finish. We can’t wait to get started.”

The grant announcement was hosted by MCVTS on the East Brunswick Campus. Richard Dovey, chairman of the board of Sustainable Jersey, and Donna Drewes, co-director, presented the checks. The MCVTS Piscataway Campus and three other school districts received $10,000 grants, while 30 received checks for $2,000. The Perth Amboy grants had been presented earlier. Dr. Tracey Maccia, MCVTS director of special education, was the grant writer and project director. She said her research into increasing student engagement through gardening prompted her to seek the grants.

MCVTS Superintendent of Schools Brian Loughlin said he was impressed by Sustainable Jersey’s “one school at a time” strategy to promote sustainable practices. He said changes in the attitudes of students and staff on the East Brunswick Campus were very noticeable as it went through the process of being designated a National Green Ribbon School last year.

Perth Amboy Principal Robert Fuller explained that aquaponic farming involved using fish to produce the fertilizer. He said the aquaponic system to be constructed in the lobby of his school would include a 300-gallon tank and about 100 fish.

In addition, there will be an outdoor garden in raised beds built by carpentry students with the help of the school’s computer-assisted drafting and design shop.

Construction of the projects is planned for this spring.

The Middlesex County Vocational and Technical School District, the first full-time county vocational school district in the nation, has seven schools on five campuses, in East Brunswick, Edison, Piscataway, Perth Amboy and Woodbridge.