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 has been fortunate to have an autism practicum student assigned to us from Dr. Joshua Diehl’s psychology course at Notre Dame for the spring semester. Dynamic, full of energy, and always upbeat, Jackie Mack is a delight to work with. Chris and Matt sat down with Jackie this week and did this interview so you can understand all the great contributions Jackie shares with us.
Matt: Where do you go to school, and what grade are you?
Jackie: I go to the University of Notre Dame, and I’m a junior.
Matt: Where are you from?
Jackie: I’m from Michigan City, Indiana.
Matt: How did you get interested in autism?
Jackie: I have a younger brother, William, who’s 14 now, and he was diagnosed with autism back when he was 3 ½ or 4, and that’s what really first got me interested.
Matt: Do you have any plans for after you graduate?
Jackie: After I graduate, I have plans of going to law school and actually working in disability law.
Matt: Why are you helping out with Green Bridge Growers?
Jackie: I’m here as part of my class, the autism practicum course that I’m taking, these are hours that are required for the class. But aside from that, I think that just because people are born with some difficulties doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve the same rights and respect that other people do who don’t have those issues. So I think you need to fight for those people and what they want.
Matt: What hobbies do you enjoy?
Jackie: This is going to sound really nerdy, but I just really like reading. I love reading books in my free time, which I don’t get a lot of free time ‘cause I’m at school.
Matt: What’s a typical day for you as a Notre Dame student?
Jackie: Well, this semester, Mondays and Wednesdays I’ll start my day off by coming here to Hannah & Friends, and I go to class, and probably go grab lunch at some point, I go back to my dorm, I act like I’m going to do my work (laughs) but I really procrastinate, and I end up starting my homework at 9:00 at night, and then I get to bed by, I’d say 2. And then I start all over again.
Matt: What classes do you enjoy the most at school, and what do you like the most about them?
Jackie: My two favorite classes at this point would probably be my autism practicum, which is why I’m here now, I love it so much because it gives me a more clinical look into the diagnosis that my brother’s had for so many years, and I’ve always been interested in that, and my education course, it’s early childhood education and policy, and it’s a class all about, as you would imagine, early childhood policy, how programs like Head Start are federally funded and mandated, and the legal processes that you go through, because I’m interested in going into the legal field, so I really like that class too.
Matt: All of us like to cook together. Did you grow up liking to cook? Do you have any favorite types of cooking or recipes?
Jackie: Oh my gosh...I’ve grown up with cooking all my life, my dad loves cooking, his mother--my grandmother--loves cooking, and I’ve grown up in that family very closely with them, so I’d say my favorite thing to cook was what I used to do when I was much younger when I would stay the night over at my grandparents’ house--my grandma would always have us making cookies, and she loved eating them. And we always thought we were awesome ‘cause she would say our recipe was the best thing in the world. Probably didn’t taste that much better than anything else (laughs), but she tricked us into thinking that it did.
Matt: Do you have any clubs or sports you do at school?
Jackie: I am very non-athletic. I’m probably the most non-athletic person you can meet (laughs), so no sports, but I’m involved in a lot of black student groups on campus, and I’m actually the treasurer of BSA--the Black Student Association at Notre Dame.
Matt: What do you like doing the most during our time together at the GBG greenhouse and Hannah & Friends?
Jackie: Honestly, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing, you guys are fun to hang around and talk with, so any time we’re cooking, it’s always really fun being in the greenhouse. Sometimes the greenhouse can get cold, but being here and being able to talk to you guys and interact with everyone, I really enjoy it, it makes my mornings.
Enjoy a taste of Green Bridge Growers! Our newest collection of recipes features a wonderful sampler of main dishes, sauces, sides, and beverages that make great use of the herbs and vegetables we love to grow. Everything we’ve collected comes from supporters and team members who are great in the kitchen and are the best of cooks! From the local to the international, there’s something for everyone! From Chris’ Italian great-grandmother’s hand-written spaghetti sauce recipe to lovely dishes representing County Cork, Ireland (home of several team members), we are happy to share this bounty of dishes.
A highlight for us of the past year was our interview with The Splendid Table and host Lynne Rosetto Kasper. Not only is that show a source of superb cooking advice, but they are especially interested in the human side of food – how our food is grown, prepared, and comes to the table. The show’s interest in our social mission was especially heartening, and we are happy to share their lovely salmon basil recipe with all of you.
There’s plenty in our recipe collection to help us get through a long winter. Spring is on the way, but until then, happy cooking and eating!
This past semester, Green Bridge Growers had the great opportunity to serve as a placement for Erica Mitchell, a senior Psychology major at the University of Notre Dame. Erica came to us from the Autism Psychology course co-taught by Dr. Joshua Diehl of Notre Dame and Kristin Weir, Clinical Director of the Ansari Center for Autism Services at Logan Center. Although this course traditionally places its practicum students with the families of young students with autism, we were delighted to serve as the first placement for this course involving adults with autism. And Erica was a perfect match for us! Over the fall semester, Erica served more than 40 hours with us, and was very involved in working with our trainees Matt, Tim, and Chris in all aspects of managing the workflow for our aquaponic greenhouse.
In addition to being a big fan of the Notre Dame football team, Erica hails from Denver and is a huge fan of the Denver Broncos. Many afternoons you could hear her and the guys talking football or comparing notes after the weekend games, always with a lot of friendly rivalry.
Matt, Tim, and Chris took time out recently to do a little interview with Erica to highlight her time with us and to share her great passion to work in the future with people with disabilities. Here’s the flow of their conversation:
Matt: How do you know about Green Bridge Growers?
Erica: I know about Green Bridge Growers from the class that I’m taking at Notre Dame called Autism, and as a part of my class, I’m working here with you guys.
Matt: How did you get interested in autism awareness?
Erica: I became interested in autism when I worked at Camp Christopher outside of Cleveland a few summers ago. During that summer, I got to work with kids and adults with autism and other intellectual disabilities, and I really loved the chance to work with those individuals.
Tim: What are your hobbies and interests?
Erica: Some of my hobbies include really doing anything outside. I love skiing and biking and hiking, a lot of the things I get to do when I’m home in Colorado.
Matt: How does it feel to live at different altitudes from South Bend to Denver?
Erica: Well, South Bend is obviously a lot closer to sea level, versus Denver, which is a mile above sea level, so when I’m home I notice that if I’ve been here in South Bend for a while and I go home and try to go for a run or do exercise, it’s a lot harder there than it is here.
Chris: What is it about autism that particularly interests you?
Erica: I am interested in general in working with individuals with multiple developmental disabilities, but one thing that’s particularly interesting about working with individuals with autism is that it is such a wide spectrum, so you really can’t make assumptions about anyone with this diagnosis; you never know what their different challenges and strengths will be, and every individual and every interaction is unique.
Thanks to Matt, Tim, and Chris for the great interview questions! It was tremendous having you with us this semester, Erica! We all did a lot of learning together and we are very grateful to you for the creativity and energy you brought to Green Bridge Growers!
This semester, Green Bridge Growers had the opportunity to collaborate with students and faculty from a variety of the colleges and universities in our area. We think the energy, talent, and commitment offered by these partnerships is tremendous. We’ll be sharing more about these collaborations in order to recognize the learning and practical knowledge contributed by these students. Today we highlight the voices of two of these students, Emma and Keeley, who joined our venture this fall through a collaboration with Professor Sonalini Sapra of Saint Mary’s College. Their reflections really highlight the value of learning that engages with the community!
Emma: Connecting to the Community
I’m from Granger, Indiana, and am a sophomore at Saint Mary's College, where I’m studying chemistry with the goal of attending medical school. I began volunteering at Green Bridge Growers through a project in my class Gender and Environmental Justice, taught by Professor Sonalini Sapra. I chose to incorporate experiential learning as part of the final project to interact with the community as well as to see some of the initiatives that had been discussed in class put into action.
During my time working with Green Bridge Growers I was able to experience many different aspects of their work. On my first visit, after touring the Hannah and Friends barn, I began working in the greenhouse. I learned how the aquaponics system works to enable the growth of plants without the use of soil and how fish provide the nitrogen needed for plant growth. It was interesting to see how the aquaponic system worked and to see the techniques used within the greenhouse. I had never seen anything like that before! I also enjoyed seeing Hannah and Friends for the first time. Although I am from this area, I had never visited the agency. With this opportunity, I enjoyed going there to learn more about their work.
My second trip volunteering I worked with residents at Hannah and Friends to process their pumpkins, which they had grown during the past year. We worked to save some of the seeds to plant next spring and will use others to roast to use as snacks throughout the fall. I enjoyed the chance to work with some of the residents at Hannah and Friends, getting to know them and assisting them with this project. Another time we planted swiss chard in the aquaponics bed. These plants had started out in peat pots, requiring us to rinse the roots off to remove the soil before placing in the aquaponics bed. After all of the chard had been transplanted, we went inside to make sage pesto, as there had been an abundance of sage in one of the gardens. I enjoyed seeing how crops that seemed overabundant could be used creatively to prepare healthy, fresh meals.
To see all aspects of what Green Bridge growers does, we spent our final session working at their location in the skybridge that connects the Century Center to the Doubletree Hotel in the heart of downtown South Bend. This site makes use of greenhouse-like conditions to grow year-round right in the heart of downtown. Existing growbeds had been repurposed to plant food rather than the decorative plants that were grown previously. That day, we applied vermicompost fertilizer - a type of highly effective fertilizer created by worms – to the base of the plants. This allowed me to see the other side of Green Bridge Growers where available space within the city is being utilized in order to grow more fresh, local produce. I enjoyed getting to see a different, more public side of the organization, as well as getting to learn about a different type of gardening and raising food.
Working with Green Bridge Growers was a unique experience. It taught me that there are multiple ways of growing food. It also showed me that everyone has even a partial green-thumb. Working here showed me that it is possible to reduce my carbon footprint, if I only put in the effort to grow at least some of my produce. Growing your own food is one of the best ways to explore the different varieties of vegetables that exist, rather than what is simply on the grocery store shelf….if you only have the patience to wait for it to grow!
- Emma Vreeke
Saint Mary’s College
Keeley: Sustainable Solutions
As a student at Saint Mary’s College, I am fortunate enough to take many classes outside of my Accounting major. I was able to take Environmental and Gender Justice this semester and a main theme from the class is sustainability. I have learned an immense amount about the environment and the injustice that can come from climate change. The most rewarding information that I have learned from the class thus far is about activism and how to be an activist. The class requires a final project so I chose to do experimental learning at Green Bridge Growers, which focuses on sustainability. This option seemed like a great way to relate what I was learning in the classroom to sustainability with a hands-on approach. Green Bridge Growers appealed to me because it uses aquaponics. It is an interesting way to grow plants because it uses fish waste and converts it into nitrates to nutrify the water where the plants are rooted. It is a different and successful way to grow in a greenhouse. Green Bridge Growers is based at Hannah and Friends, an organization directed by a Saint Mary’s College alum that helps to build relationships between those who have autism or other disabilities and local volunteers. I thought this would be a great way to connect with the participants at Hannah and Friends as well.
The first day at Green Bridge Growers was spent taking the basil out of the aquaponics bed because that crop was in need of harvesting. I plucked most of the basil leaves, which were then used to make homemade pesto sauce. Some of the basil plants were cloned and will eventually be moved into the Skywalk Garden in downtown South Bend, which Green Bridge Growers manages. During this first visit, we also got a tour of Hannah and Friends, the barn, and most importantly, the greenhouse. Matt, a resident of Hannah and Friends, worked with us to clone the basil. I learned about techniques to clone plants so that they are able to grow and be moved to survive the colder months.
On the second visit at Green Bridge Growers, Emma and I moved Swiss chard plants from little pots to the aquaponics station. This required us to clean the roots and plant them in sections. It was amazing to see how strong and long the roots were. After doing this we transitioned into the kitchen and made homemade sage pesto sauce. This was a rewarding part of the process because I got to see the basil that I plucked being used to create something delicious. The tangible product we prepared tasted great and all ingredients used were grown in the greenhouse. It was a different way to help with Green Bridge Growers, but was extremely valuable.
The third visit to Green Bridge Growers we worked to complete the cycle of the giant pumpkins they had grown this year. With the Hannah and Friends participants, we separated pumpkin seeds from the insides of the pumpkin and then the leftover pumpkin will be used as compost for the outside garden. This is a great source of recycling and shows a tremendous amount of sustainability. The pumpkin seeds were baked and used as snacks for the Hannah and Friends community and others were saved and will be replanted next season.
Finally, Emma and I got the opportunity to visit the Skywalk Garden in downtown South Bend. There we got to see the garden growing in the Skywalk that Green Bridge Growers manages. The Skywalk is new so it was great to see how much progress has been made in the past few months. Emma and I got to apply vermicompost, soil that had been fertilized by worms, in the beds of all the plants. This soil is extremely rich and nurturing so it is helpful to the plants. I am lucky that we got to visit this part of Green Bridge Growers.
I can take a lot from this experience. It was a great way to see different types of sustainability efforts and how successful it can be. Taking Gender and Environmental Justice has opened my eyes to the different opportunities that I can contribute to. It has been beneficial to be educated about the environment and Green Bridge Growers has showed me ways to sustainably grow plants and vegetables and how to translate that into the kitchen. Sustainability is an innovative topic and many companies focus highly on ways to develop this. As I go through school and life later down the road I will take what I’ve learned from class and this volunteer experience. I can now say I know how to grow vegetables sustainably and also know the importance of recycling. Thank you for the opportunity.
Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN
Water is one of the most important parts of an aquaponic system. It’s what the fish swim in, and also the way that the plants get their nutrients. Plants of course need water to grow, and they also need water to deliver other nutrients that the plants need to grow, such as nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorus. In nature as well as in conventional farming, plants grow in the soil and depend on water from the rain or from irrigation to provide them with nutrients, but in aquaponics, there is no soil and the plants grow directly in water. Regular farming is “all about the soil,” but aquaponic growing is “all about the water.”
Each day, we have to test the pH level of the water and measure the levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates in the system. It’s important to have the right pH in the system so that the fish and the plants won’t be stressed. The plants like the pH slightly acidic, and the fish like it slightly alkaline, so we have to find a middle ground between the two. Ammonia is one of the chemicals present in fish waste, and it’s toxic to the fish, so helpful bacteria convert it first into nitrites, and then finally into nitrates. Nitrates aren’t toxic to the fish, and they’re one of the nutrients that plants need to grow, so they’re important to have in the system. This is why we need to check on the different levels of each of these chemicals.
This winter, we are working to keep the water temperature in our tanks suitable for the plants and the fish. We’ll be tracking their growth, and we’ll share our progress with you.
We have been growing lots of good food in both the greenhouse and the garden. Currently, in the greenhouse, we’re growing basil, mint, and lettuce in our aquaponic beds, as well as upside-down tomato plants. We’re also growing basil and lettuce seedlings, and repotted basil chard, and spinach.
In our outdoor gardens, we recently pruned the vines for our pumpkin plants in order to direct the plants’ resources to the pumpkins. Earlier on in the summer, we also grew potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, garlic, onions, and watermelons in the garden.
We’ve also been using some of the plants from our gardens in our recipes. We’ve made mint tea and mint brownies, with mint from the greenhouse, as well as making pesto with basil from the greenhouse. When Wes had his going-away party recently, we used potatoes from the garden to make potato salad, tomatoes and basil from the greenhouse to make spaghetti sauce, and tomatoes and peppers from the garden in a salad.
We recently gave two tours of the greenhouse: one for the Irish Impact Conference from Notre Dame, and another for a group from the Mennonite Seminary in Elkhart. On the tours, we explained the greenhouse, how everything in the greenhouse works, and what we do here every day. We also explained how Green Bridge Growers started. We enjoyed having the groups here to visit.
Even though we won’t be able to grow anything outside during the winter, we’ll grow Swiss chard and lettuce in the greenhouse once the weather gets cool. We expect the tomatoes in the greenhouse to continue to grow through the winter.
It’s a lot of fun working in the garden and the greenhouse, and I’m happy to be part of it.
Wes Ward has been a big part of both Hannah and Friends and Green Bridge Growers. What a way to make a difference! He's devoted his talents and his heart in so many ways to support people of different abilities. After six years at Hannah and Friends, he retired recently and he is very much missed!
Erica Mitchell, our Notre Dame practicum student, sat down with Matt and Chris to interview them about what they’ll remember most about all the ways Wes contributed to the community here at Hannah and Friends and Green Bridge Growers.
It was Wes’ job here to manage the animals, the barn, and the grounds. What stands out for you the most about the work he did?
Chris: All the care he gave the gardens here at the Hannah and Friends Farm, and of course the animals. There are so many, horses, goats, and chickens. He took care of them all very well.
Matt: He did so many things here! He always took care of the animals. I remember him washing and feeding the horses, scooping the stables. He gave the horses hay each day in their stalls. He was always fixing things for us, making things, changing light bulbs. He was so handy!
What things did you most enjoy doing with Wes?
Chris: I really liked learning from him about gardening. He knows so much because he runs his own farm. He was always reading about the best ways to farm and garden. He likes to try new things, I remember the year he tried a no-till method. I liked to talk over with him new ideas for the garden and the growing we did at Green Bridge Growers. This year, he helped us put tomato plants in our aquaponic greenhouse. Every day he would come into our greenhouse to see us and check on everything.
A few years ago, we started to grow strawberries here and I really liked that. I also really enjoyed growing corn with him. It always turned out really tasty!
Matt: Wes always gave advice about how to grow tomatoes. He loved tomatoes and trying the best ways to grow them! He loved growing basil and eating dill pickles and I enjoyed growing cucumbers with him. He could do so many things but the one thing he always did was to put people first.
What will you remember most about Wes’ time working with us?
Chris: Wes was always learning new things. I really liked that. One time he was reading a book that I thought had a very funny title, called “Carrots Love Tomatoes.” But it wasn’t a funny book, it had great ideas for how to plant vegetables together to help them both grow in the very best way. I will never forget how much Wes read and how much I learned from him.
Matt: Wes was always, always great to talk to. I kidded around with him a lot, he liked humor. I liked that we got to be his apprentices. Wes was a great man and we’ll miss him. We hope he enjoys his retirement very much.
* * * * *
Each of us can truly make a difference right where we are, each day of our lives. Wes Ward proved that in the work he did helping us at Hannah and Friends and Green Bridge Growers. We are all better people for having known Wes and we know he’s going to keep touching a lot of people's lives even in his retirement. Thanks for everything, Wes!
This past month, we’ve been very pleased to have Amanda Buccholz work with us as an intern. Amanda is a senior at Indiana University South Bend minoring in Sustainability through IUSB’s Center for a Sustainable Future. Amanda grew up in South Bend, and has a special interest in caring for the earth and learning to grow food with sustainable, organic methods. She is also especially interested in helping people with different abilities reach their potential. For all these reasons, her placement at Green Bridge Growers has been a terrific fit for her.
Through her work, Amanda has learned a host of gardening and growing skills. She’s worked to grow crops both inside our aquaponic greenhouse and in other settings where we're growing, like the downtown Skywalk and the Hannah and Friends garden areas. She’s planted, transplanted, and repotted our herb starts, and has dug right in to mulch and tend the rows and rows of potatoes, beans, and melons outdoors. Amanda’s curiosity and pleasure in working here has helped keep things on task and made each day a joy.
What does she enjoy most about her work with Green Bridge Growers? “I really like that so much here is repurposed, or reused,” she said. Since sustainability is an important part of how we ourselves work, we are always looking for ways to make further use of equipment and materials. It’s fantastic Amanda observes that ethic applied through our work on a daily basis.
Like sustainability, aquaponics is based on a cyclical system, where water is conserved and re-used. That comparison was very important to Amanda, who finds aquaponics a great way to grow vegetables productively and practice conservation.
We love that Amanda has so many shared interests with our venture. It has been a great experience having her do her internship practicum with us for the past month. Green Bridge Growers is excited to see where this very bright young woman travels from here with all her gifts and interests! We’re very grateful for Amanda's diligence, her great follow-through, her marvelous way with the residents and participants at Hannah and Friends, and her terrific love for organic growing. Interns like Amanda really do sustain the future and make a real difference!