- Janaeé Wallace
Hannah & Friends, an agency serving persons with special needs, is also home to the original Green Bridge Growers’ greenhouse. By building our first greenhouse at Hannah and Friends, we have had the wonderful opportunity to learn from gifted individuals around us. One of the initiatives at Hannah & Friends is to create training opportunities on-site for their gifted residents. Through these efforts participants are involved regularly in the greenhouse and one of the residents is among those currently involved in the training program which we offer through the support of the Kelly Cares Foundation.
Featured in today’s blog post is one of our regular assistants, Scott. Scott works as both a stable assistant and a greenhouse/garden assistant. His cheerful personality and infectious smile always brings new light into the greenhouse. Today, Scott and I after completing our regular chores worked on the aquaponic system’s water chemistry. Healthy water chemistry is essential in aquaponic systems. Scott and I discussed how the fish health was directly related to the water chemistry. I explained to Scott how the waste produced by the fish were important to plant growth but how too much of the waste would be bad for the fish’s health. The levels of the different chemicals in the water help to determine whether the water chemistry is good, creating an environment for healthy fish. When testing water chemistry we look at Nitrate levels, Nitrite levels, Ammonia levels, and pH levels. We do this by using a small water chemistry test kit and comparing the color of the solution to a chart provided. This kit is a good way to use the skills and abilities of our assistants at Hannah & Friends while teaching them a little about the science behind our aquaponic systems. To me, one of the best ways to use aquaponic systems is to teach others about science - and I am of the firm belief that everyone can conduct and understand science.
- Janaeé Wallace
Yesterday, we planted rye in the field at our new farm, to serve as a cover crop. Organic farmers use cover crops to protect their fields from weeds during the fall and winter, when no crops would otherwise be growing in the field. They also provide benefits to the soil like helping to re-add nutrients to the soil and building soil structure. Rye in particular is good at reducing erosion, suppressing pests and weeds, and providing organic matter to the soil.
To spread the rye seed through the field, we marked off rows and then walked up and down the rows using a planter to spread the seeds in the rows. When we came across areas that were grassy, we decided to put a little extra seed on those parts because it will be harder for the seeds to grow there, so by putting extra seeds down, the rye will be more likely to grow.
Personally, I'm excited to grow cover crops in our field, in particular rye. I especially like the fact that it helps keep out weeds and insect pests, which will be very helpful to us when we plant crops in the spring. In addition to keeping out pests, rye also helps attract beneficial insects like ladybugs. As for weeds, rye not only outcompetes weeds, but can also suppress them by releasing chemicals that act as a natural herbicide. It's great that organic farmers have such tools at their disposal to deal with pests and weeds through natural means, without having to resort to synthetic pesticides and herbicides.
Green Bridge Growers is on the grow! Since the summer, we’ve been working hard every day to move forward and build at Green Bridge Growers’ new location just outside South Bend. We’ve had tremendous contributions of time, talent, and treasure that have made it possible for us to expand and grow our operations. Our new site has plenty of room to accommodate future growth, but before any construction could start we had the very big task of clearing and excavating our land. Since the site had previously been a nursery, there were thousands of pots that had been left behind amidst overgrown brambles and brush. We quickly began a “reconnaissance operation” where volunteer groups spotted the pots, carried them to a designated area, and dumped the contents into a compost pile. 2000 pots later, we are grateful to have the support of so many terrific volunteers to help with this task – Notre Dame MBA students, the ND Alumnae Association Family Camp, and Whole Foods Mishawaka. From there we’ve been busy sourcing equipment and supplies, designing our system, and doing extensive site prep.
It’s been full steam ahead. And it’s the partnerships we have that have made all the difference. Our crowdfunding supporters and terrific individual donors have been instrumental in getting us up and growing, and supporters such as the Indiana ARC, the Klau Family Foundation, the Davey Family, and the Pokagon Fund have generously contributed a portion of the start-up costs toward our aquaponic greenhouse. In addition, Home Depot has offered both supplies and labor, and an award from the Kelly Cares Foundation supports the development of our pilot training program for autistic young adults in on-the-job skills in farming and aquaponics. Such widespread help from so many people means the world to us.
Soon we’ll have 4000 new square feet of growing space. And along with expansion comes the opportunity to create more job opportunities and enrich the community with food that is delicious, healthy and local.
We’re grateful for everyone’s support and help in the work that lies ahead. Our innovation is to grow both good food and good jobs for our local community. We certainly couldn’t do this without you!
It’s that time of the year when tomatoes are bountiful. We enjoy harvesting them in our aquaponic greenhouse, where they grow upside-down in buckets suspended next to our raft system. This method makes excellent use of the overhead space throughout the greenhouse. We began growing tomatoes this way over the past year and have had great luck with “indeterminate” varieties – tomatoes that produce fruit continuously until temperatures reach frost. We’ve also learned to make sure that our tomatoes aren’t deficient in important minerals, like calcium or magnesium. We supply magnesium to our plants with a dressing of Epsom salts to make sure our plants get the nutrition they need.
And pruning the suckers from our tomato plants has been an important way to focus each plant’s energy on the largest branches and to provide the plant better airflow and circulation. That’s gone a long way toward keeping our tomatoes healthy and less susceptible to insect pests like aphids. Tomatoes are also susceptible to powdery mildew, which we control by spraying our plants with a simple mixture of water and cider vinegar. One of our tomato plants in the greenhouse is more than a year old--it managed to survive the winter in our greenhouse and is still growing well.
Another experiment for us has been to grow tomato plants in straw bales. We do this by putting an organic nitrogen additive called bloodmeal inside the bales to condition the straw. This enables the straw to decompose into humus, so that the tomatoes can root inside the straw and draw nutrients from that material. Our research consultant with Notre Dame’s ESTEEM Program, Janaee Wallace, is conducting her thesis experiment on aquaponic tomatoes so we are excited to see her progress and provide assistance throughout the coming year.
All in all, we’ve harvested tons of good tomatoes from our plants so far. We even picked a really big one just the other day that is at least a three-pounder! We enjoy taking care of the tomatoes and eating them in some wonderful dishes. Here’s a recipe you may enjoy that makes great use of summertime tomatoes:
Our Favorite Salsa
· 3 TBSP finely chopped onion
· 2 small cloves garlic, minced
· 3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeds removed, chopped
· 2 hot chile peppers, Serrano or Jalapeno, finely chopped
· 2 to 3 TBSP minced cilantro
· 1-1/2 to 2 TBSP fresh lime juice
· Salt and pepper
Chop onions and garlic; combine together and let flavors mix in bowl.
Combine onions and garlic with chopped tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, lime juice,
salt and pepper. Refrigerate to combine flavors, or if you can’t wait eat right away!
Makes 2 cups.
Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work with a venture that is bringing change to the local agricultural community. Entering a new position with Green Bridge Growers as an intern and recent college graduate, I was quickly enthralled by such a new and unique way to grow local produce. Green Bridge Growers is a social enterprise that hires individuals with autism to work within the agricultural community. However, to add to the remarkable work of GBG, the social enterprise uses an aquaponics system in their prototype greenhouse – and this same method will be utilized in their new location for up to 8 greenhouses. With the transition to a new practice of agriculture that promotes local produce, Green Bridge Growers will leave a significant and positive mark on the local South Bend community for years to come.
Here are 15 reasons to highlight the increasing importance of Green Bridge Growers in the South Bend community:
1. Hiring autistic adults
As a recent grad with a Bachelor’s degree, I found it difficult, if not impossible, to find a full time job. Endless job searches and cover letters seemed to take months out of my summer. However, as hard as it may have seemed to find a job, it was nothing close to the struggles that an individual with autism may have. About 90% of adults with autism experience unemployment, so how does one solve the problem? Hire them! Green Bridge Growers hires autistic adults to work on daily tasks in greenhouses and in gardens. The work provides a source of not only income, but a place of acceptance of one’s ability to provide help where it is needed and appreciated.
2. Aquaponics System
I hardly have a background in agriculture, but I do enjoy learning; therefore, this summer I was lucky to grasp new knowledge of aquaponics. Aquaponics is a system where fish and plants grow together. The waste from the fish produces enough nutrients to grow healthy. It also uses 90% less water than other growing systems. This new type of growing is a great alternative to traditional agriculture and introduces the community to something new and exciting!
3. The Co-Founders
As a Saint Mary’s College grad, I was blessed to have met my professor and close friend, Jan Pilarski. She has truly become an inspiration to me and is someone who is willing to take on the world. Jan and her son, Chris, are the co-founders of Green Bridge Growers. They make a remarkable pair! They have the willingness to continually seek more knowledge in the agricultural hemisphere, but also beam their curiosity so that more individuals are also intrigued by this new knowledge. With each person that Jan meets, she is able to create a sparkle in their eyes; one begins to be intrigued by the art of agriculture as well.
4. The Team
This summer, I was added to the existing and astonishing GBG Team. Jan, Chris, Matt, and Jay each contribute something new and intriguing to GBG. Each has a new idea and is willing to share it. The chemistry between the team members creates a setting where work does not even feel like work, but rather a place where one can explore his or her talents. They are accepting, loving, humorous, and intelligent. (Thanks for letting me join during the summer! J )
5. Produce, produce, and more produce!
The endless amount of produce has satisfied many individuals who visit the greenhouse at Hannah and Friends. Even as a prototype, Green Bridge Growers is able to demonstrate their green thumb by the copious amounts of herbs and vegetables grown.
6. Greenhouse at Hannah and Friends
Hannah and Friends, a local nonprofit that serves individuals with different abilities, provided the space for Green Bridge Growers to start up and successfully manage an aquaponics system. The greenhouse is perfectly convenient for guests’ visits, and also for residents to help with daily tasks. The partnership with Hannah and Friends allows GBG to grow in its knowledge of recruitment, and also provides the opportunity to see how individuals of various backgrounds can work together in daily routines.
7. Skywalk in Downtown South Bend
The skywalk located between the Century Center and the Double Tree Hotel offers a peaceful, green atmosphere during a lunch break or a midday stroll. The skywalk is filled with herbs, which are being marketed to downtown restaurants. Eventually, GBG hopes to add patio furniture and a bookshelf to increase the level of comfort and relaxation.
8. New Site Location
Green Bridge Growers has begun a huge project this summer! Its new location is 5 acres, with plenty of room for 8 greenhouses! The new location embodies a Hoosier farm feel, with space for an office and a sturdy red barn. Currently, GBG is clearing out space to build the greenhouses; the greenhouses will be run with an aquaponics system. GBG will be able to grow large amounts of produce that can be shared with the local community to increase its awareness of its mission of providing jobs for autistic adults, while also promoting local foods.
9. The College Connection
Green Bridge Growers has a close relationship with many, if not all, the universities and colleges in town. With interns from Saint Mary’s College, IUSB, and the University of Notre Dame, students are able to explore their interests in the many areas that make up GBG. Students can assist with the business sector of the social enterprise or can invest time in researching different methods of running an aquaponics system.
10. The South Bend Connection
The social enterprise has set foot and has left its mark in the South Bend community already. GBG has become a familiar name with local businesses and restaurants. They have been active in the downtown area, but also throughout the schools and farming communities. With the help of those interested in promoting the mission, GBG is able to grow more and more each day. They hope to continue to keep the local community interested in their mission and taste their delicious produce!
11. The Recipes
With a plethora of produce, of course there has to be a book of recipes! Green Bridge Growers has tried and successfully created salsas, pickles, and syrups with ingredients found in its greenhouse. The team is in the kitchen about once a week cooking up something delicious!
12. Kids Like GBG Too!
Over the summer, Green Bridge Growers has seen foot traffic from community members of all ages. This summer, there have been quite a few visits from students in the area. Students from summer camps enjoyed partaking in the daily routines of the greenhouse and also learned about aquaponics. Students were able to engage with the team and understand the mission of a social enterprise.
13. New Discoveries!
Whether it’s a pesty bug or watering solutions, Green Bridge Growers is constantly researching new ways to improve their growing techniques. From compost tea to straw bales, GBG never ceases to try new solutions to increase their knowledge of growing and to explore new options for their greenhouses and gardens.
14. Try, Try Again
With each new technique, GBG tests to see how well it will work or perhaps, if they need to try another method. The team is willing to try something new and never disregards another source of knowledge added to their growing methods. If a method does not work, then it does not work. The team simply discounts it and tries again.
15. The Future!
With such a unique growing technique to introduce to the South Bend Community, Green Bridge Growers has a positive outlook for the future. Using new methods to produce local foods, the community has something exciting to look forward to in years to come. The local community will be able to explore and learn about their produce, but also support the work of autistic adults.
Green Bridge Growers will become a substantial resource for the South Bend Community. The social enterprise hopes to hire five employees per greenhouse. GBG will also provide local produce to multiple businesses and restaurants, branching beyond the downtown area. This is a great addition to our city and the hopes of a brighter and greener future are in the hands of Green Bridge Growers!
--Christin Kloski served as GBG's intern this summer as training program developer through the generous support of the Kelly Cares Foundation. She graduated this past May from Saint Mary's College with a double major in political science and English writing, and has several years experience in the field of teaching and working with people of different abilities. We wish Christin every success as she begins a new position as volunteer coordinator at Center for the Homeless this week.
We’ve had the good fortune to have Christin Kloski on our team this summer as coordinator of our training programs. Her energy and commitment have been second to none! Bloggers Matt and Chris sat down with Christin recently to do an interview and get her take on the work she’s done this summer with Green Bridge Growers.
Christin: Hello, I’m Christin Kloski, and I’m an intern for Green Bridge Growers for the summer of 2015.
Matt: What benefits you working with us guys on the autism spectrum and how will that help you understand adults with autism better?
Christin: Yes, my work this summer definitely helps me understand individuals with autism better. What I’m doing is learning to work with and train others with different abilities. Just working together really helps us to grow with one another and also helps me understand how different individuals can work together as a team in the workplace.
Matt: How did you get interested in working with people with disabilities, such as here at Hannah & Friends and Green Bridge Growers?
Christin: I first got interested in working with Hannah & Friends when I did an Americorps program my sophomore year in college, and the next year I did an internship with Hannah & Friends. I enjoyed both of those summers at Hannah and Friends. I didn’t know much about individuals with different abilities, but once I was here and worked at Hannah & Friends I really enjoyed it. That interest carried over into Green Bridge Growers. Working with individuals with autism offers a lot of learning experiences, but it’s also a growing experience for both parties.
Matt: What is your favorite thing to do at Green Bridge Growers?
Christin: My favorite thing to do at Green Bridge is pick produce because I like to eat! I also enjoy our daily training and the tasks where we work together every day. We learn and work together to do everything in the greenhouse that’s needed. All the daily tasks help us learn more about what’s required to grow plants and fish in the greenhouse and the tasks build on and complement each other.
Matt: You just graduated from Saint Mary’s College. What did you study there – what was your major and minor?
Christin: I studied political science and English writing at Saint Mary’s, and I minored in Justice Education.
Matt: What will you miss most about the summer? Will you miss all the work at the new site clearing the land and sorting pots (editor’s note: our new site is at a former ornamental greenhouse and GBG is now in the process of clearing out the pots at that site!), or will you miss the time with the Green Bridge Growers team?
Christin: Of course I’ll be missing the pots, but I can’t wait till they move out of the way, because that’s our spot for our new greenhouse. I will definitely miss working with all of you. It’s hard working with individuals every day and then leaving them, because you’re so used to working together. I am glad my first job after college is here in the community so I can stay in touch with you!
A jar of dirt. Using something that's taken for granted, and turning it into something extraordinary. That's the kind of transformation that speaks to us.
Last fall, we had the opportunity to attend the Indiana ARC's annual conference in Muncie and witness all the great work the ARC engages in to benefit people with disabilities. They're an organization strongly committed to advocacy, empowerment, and helping each person use their skills and flourish.
What excited us was a new initiative the ARC was undertaking: to partner with Marriott to build a training hotel in Muncie where people with disabilities would be taught the skills necessary to work successfully at a hotel. Ground was broken for the ARC hotel while we were there, and commemorative jars of dirt distributed to all conference attendees.
Our jar of dirt has been in our kitchen since the conference. The other day, my daughter finally asked what it is and why it's in our kitchen. "Because it's about a project that brings a lot of hope. I want to be reminded of hope, so I keep it in a room where we spend a lot of time," I told her. The jar's label speaks volumes. "By working together we are turning ordinary dirt into extraordinary dreams," it says. How true!
More and more, we see the assets of autistic people thought of as a potential advantage on the job. It's heartening to see that a number of traditional workplaces and corporations are opening doors to those with autism, seeking their skills because they are needed at their business. Much, much more needs to be done, but that is an important change.
We've decided that our jar of dirt needs a new home. This summer, we'll break ground on our aquaponics expansion project, which will provide us the opportunity to have even greater impact in the community. When we break ground on our new construction, we plan to mingle the ARC's dirt with our own.
Dirt can be something ordinary. But with time, it can be so much more. Seeing the ARC's progress, those of us at Green Bridge Growers look forward to the transformation soon to happen when we build and expand. We are grateful for the inspiration of the ARC. It's their outstanding example that gives us lots of momentum and much hope as we move forward this year.
It's a great privilege to base our work in South Bend, Indiana, where there are several colleges and universities whose students participate in our venture as interns and volunteers. We love the energy, desire to learn, and expertise these students bring to us!
One of our very special connections is with the Center for a Sustainable Future at Indiana University South Bend and its students. We were fellows of the Center last year, and really appreciate the many innovative ideas CSF has brought to the IUSB campus and the local community. CSF also sponsors a minor in sustainability studies, and they have been great champions of our work. Last December, when sustainability studies minor Maggie Kent approached us about creating a short film to complete a final project requirement for one of her sustainability studies courses, we jumped at the chance to work with her. What a creative option and what an out-of-the-box opportunity to learn and work with her sustainability studies course material! We were very pleased to have Maggie and cinematographer Justin Howell work onsite for with us for a day to create a film featuring our venture.
Interested in learning more about the story of Green Bridge Growers and our social mission? Maggie and Justin's film is linked here, and it's a wonderful way to share our impact and model. They later entered their film to the Real Food Media Contest, which is coordinated by food justice advocate Anna Lappe. And great news - we recently learned that their film about Green Bridge Growers is featured by the Real Food Media Contest in their media library. What a great testimony to the beautiful work done by Maggie and Justin to share the mission and vision of our venture! We are very grateful to the two of them for creatively sharing our story and to the Real Food Media Project for highlighting Maggie and Justin's film.
Here's the link to the Real Food Media film on Green Bridge Growers for you to explore: https://vimeo.com/128174547
Thanks Maggie and Justin, for your wonderful film -- and thanks to the Center for a Sustainable Future at IU-South Bend for the many ways you make our community greener and more sustainable.
It makes such a difference to have excellent interns on board whose coursework connects to our own mission. Today, we're very grateful to Nikki Charter, a Saint Mary's College senior who interned with GBG as part of her studies as a communications major. We're going to miss this very dynamic, creative young woman who brought such joy to her work. Congratulations and thanks, Nikki!
Green Bridge Growers has some very exciting things in the pipeline - our first-ever aquaponics program for 6th- 8th graders! We are partnering with Edison Intermediate Center in South Bend to offer these afterschool enrichment workshops on March 17th, 24th, 31st and April 14th, and 21st.
Saint Mary’s professor Dr. Amy Gillan developed the workshops with her secondary science methods class and her Education 447 class, who researched and wrote the curriculum. Dr. Gillan said the goal of the workshops is to teach aquaponics with a focus on sustainability issues. Shella Raja, a Notre Dame biological science senior with a minor in sustainability studies, has been working on the workshops for her capstone project. “We formed an interdisciplinary team of secondary education, science, and aquaponics specialists. A group from Saint Mary's College and IUSB wrote the curriculum while Jan [Pilarski, co-founder of Green Bridge Growers] and I worked on funding, grants, approvals, and logistics of getting the program on its feet,” she said.
Shella said she wanted to partner with Green Bridge Growers because she felt the venture is doing something great for the community in a unique and innovative way. “They represent what more organizations should try to accomplish as far as creating opportunities for people of all abilities and promoting sustainability at the same time,” said Shella.
The curriculum is hands-on, with opportunities for middle school students to design, test, and evaluate their own miniature aquaponics systems. The students will also get a chance to examine their own ecological impact in terms of the foods they eat and how and where those foods are cultivated.
Throughout the workshops students will be learning about the environment, stewardship, plants, fish, aquaponics, and more! Each workshop will begin with an agenda. Then students will go through daily activities with the help of the volunteers from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College. In the later sessions, they will build mini aquaponics demo systems and display them at a concluding science fair. Shella thinks this part of the workshops will be the most memorable for students because they actually get to build something and see it work. Four volunteers from Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s College will be present to help during the workshops and the curriculum extends over five days.
Dr. Gillan is hoping that students will come away from the workshop series excited about science and design, gaining knowledge about what they can do to reduce the extent of their ecological impact on the Earth AND how aquaponics fits into that. She says, “We think that this curriculum will be particularly effective for middle school students because it is primarily hands-on, methodological, and calls for creativity”.
Shella hopes this sets us up for a long-term partnership with Edison Intermediate and potentially other schools in the future. She is hopeful that students will gain an interest in sustainability for its versatility in all areas of life.
To parents and teachers interested in learning more about the program, Shella reports that “while this is a pilot program, we have worked so hard to bring this program to life. The good news is it's a great way to keep students engaged and interested in science outside of school!”
Shella’s favorite aspect of the program is that middle school students get to learn about sustainability in a unique way through aquaponics education. While aquaponics has been introduced to the curriculum at other schools, the Green Bridge Growers curriculum breaks new ground by incorporating the learning styles of students of different abilities, including those with autism. Dr. Gillan and Shella both stressed, “Inclusivity is a big positive of the program”.
Sounds like fun doesn’t it?!
Check out the workshop website http://educateaquaponics.wix.com/aquaponics-education
Visit the Green Bridge Growers website at: www.greenbridgegrowers.org. Find us also on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and be on the look for our upcoming newsletter!
Green Bridge Growers is a social enterprise created to put to work the many gifts and skills of young adults with autism. Our founders, Chris and Jan, are building an exciting venture that grows fresh local food and grows great jobs for autistic adults. We invite you to learn about us and follow our work!