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.