Indiana State University Newsroom

Indiana State students dive into aquaponics

June 26, 2014

Indiana State students are helping a local business develop farming techniques of the future.

Chelsea Higginbotham and Kyle Wilcher are research assistants for Mat Pollom, owner of Greener Scenes Aquaponics, housed at Inland Aquatics in Terre Haute.

Aquaponics combines traditional aquaculture (raising fish, prawn, etc.) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water).

Aquaponic systems are organic and 100 percent sustainable by way of plant clippings and harvesting seeds. Basically any plant — except extremely acidic varieties such as blueberries, mangos and peaches — will grow, Pollom said. While aquaponics is water-based, much of the water is recycled so aquaponics uses just 5 percent of the water traditional farming does, he said.

Wilcher, a self-described health freak, says the experience has taught him how to eat healthier.

“I come in everyday saying, ‘I’m going to build a garden,’” said Wilcher, a junior athletic training major from Indianapolis.

Higginbotham, a junior majoring in health psychology, agrees.

“I’ve learned so much. I could sustain myself (on aquaponics) for the rest of my life,” said Higginbotham of Marshall.

Thomas Steiger, director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity at Indiana State, met Pollom through a mutual acquaintance a couple of years ago. Steiger said he was struck by Pollom’s earnestness, knowledge and dedication to sustainability.

“I realized how much research he was doing to prove concepts that things indeed would work, etc.,” Steiger said. “There is not much good research on aquaponics yet.”

Steiger also saw a golden prospect for Indiana State students.

“Matt provides a great opportunity for our students to learn about sustainability and research in an experiential setting. Experiential learning is a core value of Indiana State,” Steiger said. “And this is also community engagement, helping to develop the local food economy and launch what is the leading edge of new agricultural production in the U.S. I only wish the CSRC had more funds for another summer research experience or two to be placed at Greener Scenes.”

During a tour of Pollom’s business, which doubles as a laboratory, where he plants “random things to see if they’ll grow,” it’s impossible not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.

First, there’s the hatchery system with six breeding clutches of Blue Nile Tilapia, a freshwater fish well suited to aquaponics, and crawfish. Next is the indoor hydroponics system with tomatoes, bell pepper and a coffee plant growing. Outside is where the two systems come together into aquaponics — the tilapia in tanks below and a menagerie of herbs, fruits and vegetables in elevated gardens.

“It grows everything like they’re on steroids,” Wilcher said.

As Pollom picks through the plants, he points out how wrinkled leaves indicate a pH level being off or spots on the leaves of another variety mean an iron or calcium deficiency.

“The plants will tell you what’s wrong with them,” Pollom said.

Pollom says he doesn’t see his business as a competitor to traditional farmers or fisherman. Especially in regards to fish, he says they’re all in it together to reduce the amount of seafood imported from Asia, where farming practices are not regulated. 


Photos: -- Indiana State students Kyle Wilcher and Chelsea Higginbotham work on the aquaponics system at Greener Spaces Aquaponics. – Mat Pollom and Kyle Wilcher look at the tilapia tanks at Greener Spaces Aquaponics, housed at Inland Aquatics in Terre Haute. – Indiana State student Kyle Wilcher poses for a portrait next to a hydroponic garden at Greener Spaces Aquaponics. -- Indiana State students Kyle Wilcher and Chelsea Higginbotham pose for a portrait outside Inland Aquatics in Terre Haute.

Contact: Thomas Steiger, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Student Research and Creativity, Indiana State University, 812-237-3426 or

Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or