BETHANY, W.Va. – A Bethany College biology major’s senior project helped provide lettuce to feed some of the animals at Oglebay’s Good Zoo in Wheeling.

Madison CramerMadison Cramer, of Kendallville, Ind., focused her project on aquaponics, a combination of aquaculture – the breeding and harvesting of fish and other aquatic organisms – and hydroponics – soilless gardening.

Under the advising of Dr. Peter Ehni, she set out to study whether the roots of lettuce plants provided enough surface area for bacteria to colonize and clean the water for fish to reuse. Aquaponics systems use 95 percent less water than traditional farming because the water is cycled through, she said. Her project also examined the economics of implementing such a system.

“I’ve always been interested in animals actually, but being a biology major, it’s hard to ignore the climate crisis, and aquaponics is a great way to mitigate the climate crisis,” Cramer said.

Her project also examined the economics of running an aquaponics system.

The lettuce that’s grown in the system requires harvesting every six weeks.

“Leaving it in longer attracts bugs like crazy and doesn’t allow space for new seeds to be transferred into the troughs,” she said.

Through a summer internship at an animal sanctuary, Cramer learned firsthand how expensive food costs were for feeding animals.

“We had five black bears and a host of primates to feed, so we went through a ton of lettuce weekly,” she said. “When we would get food shipments in, we’d fill up like five tubs just of lettuce, and it would be pretty much decimated in about two days by the end of my internship.”

By that time, the bears were eating twice daily to prepare for winter, she said.

That experience sparked an idea.

Cramer reached out to the Good Zoo and set up a weekly donation that amounted to roughly 20 pounds of lettuce by the end of the spring semester. One week she would drive the lettuce to Oglebay, and the next a zoo representative would pick it up at Bethany.

She presented her project during Bethany’s annual Scholarship Symposium.

After graduation, Cramer plans to work in zookeeping or some form of animal husbandry. Even though her research didn’t directly play into her career goals, she said her new knowledge could be beneficial.

“Being able to set up an aquaponics system could mean fresh greens for animals that eat greens and fresh fish for the carnivores, if they’re not too picky, of course,” she said.


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.