Cape May Technical High School culinary arts student Amber Gibboney took a tray of parsley and onion scraps and tossed it into a large white bucket labeled "Compost."
"The worms will love that," said Cape May Tech's culinary arts teacher David Masterson, as he looked on.
Once full, the compost will go to the school's biology aquaculture class to be used as food for its worm farms.
"On a regular basis, we either pick up the compost, or they send it here," biology aquaculture teacher Jim McKinley said. The worms are used to feed its tilapia. The tilapia is used to feed the students.
"It's full circle," McKinley said, as he stood next to the bin of worms.
McKinley's students raise tilapia in an outdoor aquaculture pond not too far from the school. Once the fish are big enough, they harvest and filet them, and then hand them over to the culinary arts students, who will fry them up for a cafeteria lunch special coined Fishy Frydays.
Cape May Tech's commercial foods class, taught by Vince Downey, make the Fishy Fryday specialty.
"We dredge them in a flour and bread crumb mixture, and then we fry them up," Downey said, adding there are never leftovers on Fishy Frydays. "The students promote it. They'll say to each other, 'Get the fish. Susie is in the biology class that raised and harvested it,' or 'Joey cooked it.'"
So far this year, McKinley's students have filleted 50 pounds of tilapia, enough for two Fishy Frydays, or about 140 lunches, he said.
During the winter, the fish have to be transported into indoor lab tanks, where it's warmer.
"Tilapia are indigenous to Africa, so they're warm-water fish," McKinley said.
It's very difficult to make a profit off of growing tilapia in New Jersey, he said. But as far as the lessons go, raising tilapia are a great education tool.
"We can talk about ecology, food chains and food webs, nitrogen cycles and diseases. It's endless," he said. "We actually have yet to open our book this year because this class is so hands-on. We have something going on every day. They're great that way."
The yummy lunch is just a perk, he said.
Walking around his classroom lab, McKinley pointed out a glass fish tank filled with a bunch of quarter-sized tilapia swimming around.
"Those little guys used to be tiny little guys, probably one-eighth of an inch," McKinley said.
Tilapia are mouth-breeders.
"The adults scoop up the eggs and keep them in their mouth until they hatch to keep them safe," said junior Jeanette Gray, of Tuckahoe. When the biology aquaculture class scooped the bigger fish out of the aquaculture pond, they spit out their babies. In the spring, when the weather is warmer and the baby fish are bigger, they will be moved to the outdoor aquaculture pond. Then in the fall, they will be moved to the indoor tanks and again they will spit out their babies.
"It's a circle of life," McKinley said. "We haven't had to purchase tilapia in over 10 years."
His students also harvest clams and oysters, which, too, are used by the culinary classes for their meals. Earlier this year, McKinley's biology aquaculture class and Masterson's culinary arts class paired up to harvest and cook 1,000 clams for a joint clam bake social.
"We put waders on and went way into the water to harvest the clams," said senior Mariel Gold, of Woodbine. They then took their harvest into the school kitchen where Masterson taught them some recipes, which they tried. Then, they feasted.
"You can't get more hands-on than that," Masterson said.
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