for March, 2015
Upon meeting in January at the SWF installation at the Chicago City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower, SWF Executive Director Emmanuel Pratt and Sarah Gleisner, Program Officer of the Fulbright Foreign Student Program with the Institute of International Education (IIE), began to explore opportunities for potential collaboration between the Fulbright Foreign Student Program Seminar on Youth Engagement and Empowerment and Sweet Water Foundation for the spring of 2015. Given Fulbright’s mission to increase mutual understanding between people of the United States and other countries and SWF’s mission is to democratize, globalize, and commercialize urban agriculture practices for resilient 21st century communities via hands-on, real-world learning grounded in concepts of community, equity, transformation and resilience, both Sarah and Emmanuel recognized a tremendous opportunity for cross pollination across the programs.
On both Friday March 20th and Saturday March 21st, approximately 80 of the 140 Fulbright scholars joined by Megan Spillman, the IIE Chicago Director participated in site visits to the Perry Ave Community Farm, the Think-Do House, and the CSU Aquaponics Center. On Saturday March 21st, 40 of the Fulbright scholars from 30 different countries worked directly with the SWF team, local residents, and Orrin Williams from the Center for Urban Transformation on the Perry Ave Community Farm helping to prepare for the 2015 harvest season.
Through the site visits and the community engagement event, the Fulbright participants had the opportunity to gain an understanding of the importance of aquaponics, local food systems, the Perry Ave Community Farm and the Think-Do House within the neighborhood and as a central component of the SWF’s model for neighborhood development along with the level of impact it has on the community.
The Chicago Fulbright Enrichment Seminar is one of eleven enrichment seminars hosted across the United States by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) as part of its flagship Fulbright Program. All of the participants in the community engagement project are in their first year of study and represent a variety of countries and academic backgrounds. The seminar featured lectures, panel discussions, site visits, community outreach, and volunteer opportunities. Through these events, participating students will explore current strategies to encourage young people to serve as positive leaders in shaping their lives and the lives of their community.
We are all extremely excited about following the potential impact that this experience will have on the Fulbright students, our team, and the community residents who participated on both days. As part of their participation in the Fulbright program, participants agree to return to their home countries and apply some of the lessons they have learned.This unique cross- cultural collaboration also promises rich opportunities for the exchange of ideas and strategies in resolving some of the increasingly similar contemporary issues threatening urban and rural communities across the globe such as sustainability, food scarcity, the environment and healthful living.
There Grows the Neighborhood…..
Sweet Water Foundation is happy to announce that its Milwaukee City Director, Jesse Blom, has enrolled in the Professional Science Master’s program at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM), while continuing to spearhead SWF’s Milwaukee efforts. The School of Freshwater Sciences has a 50 year history for internationally renowned research of freshwater ecosystems. Jesse‘s coursework will focus on freshwater aquaculture, utilizing the school‘s state of the art recirculating and flow-through aquaculture labs that are primarily used for studying yellow perch.
Ideas cover the white walls of Heart Haus Break Bread and Brainstorm (dining) room. Miguel Castro, James Godsil & Ben Koller.
According to Heart Haus’ Facebook page, the space is an experiment in collaborative living, working and playing.
Its original parlor is now a digital conferencing room. It is central to the Heart Haus dream, according to Ben Koller.
Some might recognize Koller as the man who brought the Milwaukee’s iconic former basketball court back into the public eye, but since last spring he has thrown himself into this project.
The Heart Haus (Credit S Bence)
The digital conferencing room (Credit S Bence)
“The dream was we could have the technology to be able to connect partners all around the world and use the power of technology to communicate vision and connect vision,” Koller says.
Heart Haus is about experimentation and James Godsil inspired it. He contributed the building in which is stands.
Community organizing is in his blood. In 1966 in his native St. Louis, Godsil took up the mantle, which he continued to wear while raising three children on his own – in this house on Euclid – and running a roofing company.
He was central to the creation of Sweet Water Organics. It broke ground inside an old warehouse off Kinnickinnic in 2009, creating a massive aquaponics system in which fish are raised in large tanks, the water from which circulated through beds in which greens and tomatoes flourished. The business closed 2013, but Godsil’s greatest interest – Sweet Water Foundation – continues with projects and partnerships in Milwaukee and Chicago.
Godsil is known for his poetic ramblings about restoring urban economy and community through urban agriculture and aquaponics. Boomers sharing wisdom with and learning from millennials is central to his creed.
Seldom at a loss for words, Godsil is rendered nearly speechless by the energy bouncing off the walls at Heart Haus. He says retracing what led to its creation would take hours to convey.
“But I’ll just say that I was faced with a prospect of selling the house in a deferred maintenance state or taking a gamble that collaborations of what I call earth nation Americans and resourced boomers who are ready to give back and aspire to as much meaning and contribution in their final life’s chapters as is possible. And it’s been happening as you’ve discovered,” Godsil says.
Jesse Blom brings his aquaponics expertise to the Heart Haus table. He set up a small system in the Sweet Water Work Live Playroom. It contains bunk beds and a small work station.
“This small aquaponics system uses a 20-gallon aquarium tank. We’ve got three goldfish in there. And we have a little plastic box that sits above the tank and the water is pumped to the plastic box where the plants are living. This was the first thing I put in here at the Heart Haus last spring when we started the whole process, because it’s a way to engage people,” Blom says.
He created a many times larger fish and plant system in the basement stocked with tilapia, and next summer will start teaching workshops to train others to set up their own.
“Another purpose is we’re providing food for the household. The basement system was designed to produce one plant every day. So we could have one lettuce plant harvested every day. We have the capacity for about 60 plants. So if we seed every day, we can harvest every day,” Blom explains.
Heart Haus is meant to demonstrate sustainable living. Vegetable beds occupy most of its front and backyards. As time goes on, Ben Koller says they plan to add a variety of workshops.
“We’ve already done microgreen growing class, soap and detergent making and candle making,” he says.
Heart Haus aims to blend back to basics training with the latest in technology. “We hope to get a 3-D printer and CNC machine so we’re able to do rapid prototyiping and home craft development ideas,” Koller says.
In the short time since its inception, more than 1,200 people have visited – from across town to far away places like Ghana, Costa Rica and Australia – some spend a night or two.
Koller says those conversations result in great ideas. They are scribbled across white boards covering much of the dining rooms walls.
“This is probably this is the most important room. We call it the Bread Breaking Brainstorm Room, because there’s some sort of sacred energy connection that happens when you share food with people, especially food that you grew. Just naturally through conversation comes ideas. And as you can see, we’ve been working on many different things,” Koller says.
Just off the kitchen, we pop into the green room. Worms in giant tubs are quietly breaking down vegetable scraps to create soil, nearby trays overflow with microgreens and wheat grass. This is Miguel Castro’s domain.
“The development of the Heart Haus enabled me to meet and talk with people in the urban ag movement in Milwaukee and get a lot of insights. It enabled me to synthesis some of those ideas to be able to transform this room to produce up eight salads a day,” Castro says.
Heart Haus, Ben Koller says with relish, is a Petri dish. It’s about experimentation.
One experiment, the brainchild of a guest from Central America, resides in the snow-packed backyard.
Koller describes the once highly functional hoop house as Heart Haus’ most glorified failure – to date.
“Alex Pacheco of Earth University was on sabbatical and part of his sabbatical was to do a practical. So we decided to make a hoop house for sprouting and different things in the summer and spring. Alex is from Costa Rica and he had a way of making them, so at times I said ‘Alex, I don’t think this is going to hold up’ but he was a professor and a PhD, so who was I to say it wouldn’t work,” Koller says.
They built it using materials from the neighborhood hardware store for $157.00.
Koller says it was learning experience they cherish. “And we can just unscrew this, take it apart and reuse the materials,” he says.
The team believes Heart Haus is making strides. They can feel it in the neighborhood.
Koller says last summer when heavy construction began to transform the old house, neighbors were skeptical.
“We had a huge dumpster outside the front door and as we hauled stuff out we introduced ourselves and told them we are doing this urban farm. The neighbors were cordial but nothing beyond that,” Koller says.
After it became clear to outsiders the Heart Haus crew was creating something special, Koller says they heard a knock on the door. The next door neighbor wanted to borrow a hedge trimmer.
“He had these huge shrubs along his lot line. He planted them to block his view of our backyard. He said he wanted to cut the bamboo down now because we’re neighbors now and he wants to see us,” Koller says.
Months later, after they had been harvesting and sharing vegetables from the Heart Haus garden, the neighbor returned. Ben says he asked for help removing the roots of the shrubs.
“He said you inspired us; we want to do a vegetable garden next year,” Koller says.
The team hopes Heart Haus serves as glue to pull community together that can be a model for other neighborhoods.