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Environmental studies senior wins scholarship to champion aquaponics in Idaho

Aaron sitting in woodlands
Aaron Carignan

Hailing from Idaho City, Boise State environmental studies senior Aaron Carignan is on a mission to promote sustainable agriculture practices – namely aquaponics – with the help of a $1,000 Hometown Challenge Scholarship.

Launched this year, the summer scholarship provides students with the financial support to develop and implement a project that will have a significant impact on their local communities.

As a champion of sustainable agriculture, Carignan’s award-winning proposal is to build an aquaponics education center in Idaho. Aquaponics is an integrated food production system in which plants are grown directly in water with fish. This symbiotic arrangement produces far less waste than conventional growing methods, and offers immense opportunities for food producers in Idaho, where water is limited.

Carignan envisions the center as “a community garden where people could come and participate in gardening with aquaponics, so that they could learn a little bit more about sustainability as well as some of the business and economics of aquaponics, and why it works, some of the hurdles you have to overcome. And that way, it isn’t just secluded to farmers. People of all sorts could get involved with it.”

To do this, Carignan is visiting dozens of Idaho farmers and proponents of sustainable agriculture over the summer, such as the Boise Urban Garden School (BUGS), Global Gardens and New Choices Farm. In meeting with these communities of growers and doers, Carignan hopes to learn from their experiences, needs and concerns about aquaponics, as well as find ways “to show people that there’s a sustainable way to harvest in Idaho, and there is a way to support local farmers that use sustainable practices,” he said.

large vegetable gardening operation
Photo of Global Gardens farming, by Aaron Carignan

To date, Carignan has reached out to nearly 50 farms and growers, and says that the results of these meetings have already been inspiring. Not only did he find some farmers actively embracing aquaponics systems but he realized how wide the potential impact of the proposed center could be on local stakeholders.

“In the beginning, I thought local farmers are going to benefit from this, because it’s going to be more or less a proof of concept that something like this works,” said Carignan. “But the stakeholders keep growing. The city of Boise, Ada County – as they struggle to deal with water shortages and more variance in the water availability, it’s really going to be important to kind of navigate water scarcity, and aquaponics is a great way to do that.”

As a high school student in Idaho City, Carignan’s education and professional outlook was indelibly impacted by his experience with the Idaho Center for Outdoor Education. Through the Hometown Challenge and his own personal sustainable agriculture ventures, Carignan is eager to promote the network and discover opportunities for fellow students to engage directly with aquaponics.

In addition to winning the Hometown Challenge Scholarship, Carignan also received a Dean’s Scholarship for his first two years of undergraduate education, as well as a Boise Ridge Riders Scholarship to pursue environmental studies.