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.
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.
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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!
Like good soil, the fathers in our lives root us, ground us, and help us grow. On a day that celebrates fathers, Green Bridge Growers is grateful for the role that one very special father, Henry Pilarski, played in shaping and giving life to our venture.
Hank was the dad and grandfather of our co-founders, Jan and Chris. The possibility of turning yards into flourishing gardens, and gardens into places of nourishment and hope, was an essential part of Hank’s outlook and upbringing. Raised during the Great Depression to an immigrant family, Henry appreciated that the family farm was what sustained them. It provided jobs and income, gave his family the opportunity to eat healthfully, and was a source of pride. The Pilarski family farm was one of the original urban farms in Milwaukee and referred to as a “truck farm,” where produce after harvesting was put in the back of a truck and sold directly to vendors, markets, and restaurants. Dad learned about the art and science of farming from his parents, who had farmed in Poland, and by exchanging tips and ideas with a lively community of fellow farmers on Milwaukee’s south side.
Many years later, after Hank was grown and raising his three children, gardening became an important way to pass on family history and share a whole body of knowledge about healthy living. The family’s backyards might have been on the small side, but Henry created pocket gardens and managed to grow quite a lot of food for his family. Eggplant, tomatoes, dill, cucumbers fresh from the garden – that was to live like kings and queens! Henry taught his family to enjoy the feel of soil through their fingers, feeling the potential of what could be created, nurtured, and grown.
Henry always got excited talking with friends about what was growing in the garden. Cooking with what he had himself grown made him feel like a terrific provider for his family. And the excitement of growing new varieties, new crops, and experimenting with new techniques always gave him great energy and hope.
Farming has changed over the years, but Henry’s joy and pride in growing is a big part of who we are today as a venture. To connect with the soil, to grow new things was a way to nurture and bring something unique to life. Those lessons are an important part of who we are, at the heart of Green Bridge Growers. And this Father’s Day, we are thankful Henry’s spirit is such a part of our venture and our mission. Planting seeds of hope, indeed.
This week we are taking a little family R&R for spring break. We’re visiting sunny southern California, where we’ve enjoyed plenty of sunshine, warmth, and beautiful plants and flowers. Being Green Bridge Growers, we’d naturally notice the vegetation and everything that’s growing!
But just a couple of days ago we had a very special visit to Inclusion Films in Burbank, a film studio/training center founded by Joey Travolta. We are very interested in the power of film to share the story of what we do, and Inclusion couldn’t have been a better place to learn from the pros.
We had the good fortune to learn about Inclusion at the Extraordinary Ventures Autism Employment Conference in Chapel Hill this past January. Several of their trainers and filmmakers attended to share a presentation on their venture and to film the conference. At the time, we were incredibly inspired and knew we wanted to learn more from them.
In the best sense of “bloom where you are planted,” Inclusion uses its LA base to train young adults on the autism spectrum in all aspects of filmmaking. With LA being such a major center of filmmaking, Inclusion uses the resources there to recruit film industry contacts and trainers to teach its students scripting, filming, and editing. Their venture also makes great use of its LA location to train and build meaningful job opportunities for its students in the film industry – first as production assistants, then with the opportunity to move into other positions in film.
When we visited this week, instructor Bill Dion gave us the inside scoop on their business, and showed us roomfuls of equipment, cameras, and film sets. One of their rooms even had a mini-New York subway system for use in a film their students had recently made. You can believe that caught our attention!
What does a film studio have to do with aquaponics? Well, plenty!
We loved Bill’s emphasis on training, support, and excellence. Inclusion is using the creativity and visual strengths of people with autism to do something truly amazing. And clearly, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to autistic employment. As a venture, Inclusion is blooming where they are located, using the resources of LA to develop jobs and hope for adults with autism right where they are.
We get that. From our base in Indiana, traditionally a farm state, we are blooming in our own location – using organic farming and aquaponics to build jobs here.
And Inclusion certainly knows how to tell stories through the films they create. “A story is just a beginning, a middle, and an end told well,” said Bill. He emphasized the importance of telling a story consistenly and even in today’s digital age how much we need to stay connected to people personally to discover the stories worth telling.
The story of Inclusion is clearly about excellent training, using resources well, and tapping into creativity and gifts. We are inspired by their operational style and their power to tell a story. We come away from our time with them full of ideas and great insights, ready to keep sharing our story and doing our part to create meaningful job opportunities for those with autism.
This April, we join with people around the globe to commemorate Autism Awareness Month. To do our part, we are happy to announce Green Bridge Growers’ Open House on Wednesday, April 2 on the occasion of World Autism Day at the Hannah and Friends greenhouse (51250 Hollyhock Road, South Bend). Please join us between the hours of 12-2 and 6-8 on April 2 to see our work in action. Great things are growing at Green Bridge Growers!
World Autism Day was first declared by the United Nations seven years ago. Here are the powerful words of the current United Nations Secretary, General Ban Ki-moon, to mark the 2014 commemoration:
“This year’s World Autism Awareness Day is a chance to celebrate the creative minds of people on the autism spectrum, and to renew our pledge to help them realize their great potential.
To measure the success of our societies, we should examine how well those with different abilities, including persons with autism, are integrated as full and valued members.
Education and employment are key. Schools connect children to their communities. Jobs connect adults to their societies.
Persons with autism deserve to walk the same path.
By including children with different learning abilities in mainstream and specialized schools, we can change attitudes and promote respect.
By creating suitable jobs for adults with autism, we integrate them into society.
At this time of economic constraint, governments should continue to invest in services that benefit persons with autism.
When we empower them, we benefit current and future generations.
Tragically, in many parts of the world, these individuals are denied their fundamental human rights. They battle discrimination and exclusion. Even in places where their rights are secured, too often they still have to fight for basic services.
World Autism Awareness Day is about more than generating understanding; it is a call to action. I urge all concerned to take part in fostering progress by supporting education programmes, employment opportunities and other measures that help realize our shared vision of a more inclusive world.”
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We couldn’t agree more with Secretary Ban Ki-moon. Awareness is the first step in moving forward for those in our communities with autism. We’re taking the Secretary’s words to heart along with so many others around the globe to educate and take action to benefit our loved ones with autism right in our own community. Won’t you join us in this mission?
It’s been a long, cold winter here in northwest Indiana. We are now thawing out, and the piles of snow that surrounded our greenhouse at Hannah and Friends just weeks ago have finally dwindled. All the coming signs of spring bring new energy and a sense of growth to our team.
In the meantime, we’ve been busy building on the great success of our crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo that ended right before the holidays. The way our supporters rallied so generously is nothing short of a modern-day barnraising. And in this age of amazing connectivity, those who rallied to help came from as close as our local community of South Bend to as far away as Ireland and China. What hope that gives us as we continue to develop our mission of growing delicious, local food while creating skill-matched jobs for those with autism!
Even though the winter has been long and cold, we’ve been in constant motion. Our method of growing, aquaponics, allows us to farm throughout the year – and farming is very much a year-round job in any case! We've kept planting and growing through the whole winter, testing new varieties of vegetables and researching new growing methods. Mint, chives, bok choy, and swiss chard are all flourishing in the pleasantly warm surroundings inside our prototype greenhouse.
We're delighted to share that we're now in the process of researching and investigating sites where we’ll build our first commercial aquaponics greenhouse. We have a great team exploring options for us – our Chamber of Commerce, commercial realtors, and city government officials. As we spring forward into a new season and a new phase for our venture, we’re excited to share even more updates of all that’s growing at Green Bridge Growers – our plants, our people, and our next-stage greenhouse!
GREAT NEWS TO SHARE WITH THE GREEN BRIDGE GROWERS COMMUNITY!!
We at Green Bridge Growers are excited to announce that the article written about us on The Atlantic earlier this week has gone viral!!! It's been liked and shared more than 8,000 times on Facebook and Twitter. We couldn't be more thrilled that our story is getting out to people across the globe who find inspiration in our venture. You've helped our campaign get up and growing! We wanted all of you to know about this terrific sharing of the Green Bridge Growers story. Please reach out and spread our good news! Share this great article, and encourage others to support our campaign just as you have. We have 8 days to go to reach our Stretch Goal! Together we can do it!
Exciting News! We've just launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo today! With your help, we are on track to build our next-stage commercial greenhouse and couldn't be more thrilled. This project will create jobs for 5 young adults with autism and grow 45,000 pounds of vegetables each year. That's a lot of impact! We invite all of you to pledge your support and share our campaign widely with your family and friends: