Finalist category: Digital Skills Award
Digital Skills Award, Winner, 2017
Disabled students use innovative aquaponic farming technology
FabFarm! is a digital aquaponic farm that is designed, built and operated as a social enterprise by disabled students in Derry, N.Ireland.
Developed by the Nerve Centre, FabLab, it uses new and emerging technologies to help empower, engage and inspire young people with special educational needs to develop new skills which are directly focused upon their employability in the digital marketplace.
Students do an accredited training programme in Digital Fabrication & Design. Building a commercial aquaponic farming unit, the students then grow produce to sell to local restaurants.
Digital Fabrication technologies, like 3D printing, are rapidly impacting upon the employment market but accredited training still relatively rare. The FabFarm! project addresses this directly with an area of the workforce that suffers from chronic unemployment.
The project combines high-end digital skills with STEM learning and real-world enterprise skills, empowering marginalised young people to deliver tomorrow’s food today. The public-facing element of this project is one of its key strengths. Students go to artisan food markets, with their mobile aquaponics unit and have found the general public very keen to understand both aquaponics and digital fabrication.
“We are innovating here in Northern Ireland with something that has not been done anywhere before. The combination of technology, STEM and Social Enterprise is powerful in unlocking key areas of learning for young people and its application to special educational needs learners is particularly powerful and socially driven,” said Donna Cartin, Vice Principle, Ardnashee School & College.
“We feel that inclusion should be at the heart of technological development and our learners should have the earliest opportunity to engage with new and emerging tech.”
Employability for people with special needs is a huge issue for those that are affected, but relatively invisible for everyone else. At FabFarm they are working hard to see how technology can change this.