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
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.
Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, IN