posts by author
Centers for New Horizons, a community development agency assisting children and families in Chicago’s Bronzeville and Riverdale communities of Chicago’s South Side, is partnering with Sweet Water and community liaisons and educators to bring aquaponics and urban agriculture into local schools in Bronzeville.
Historically, many African Americans moving north in the Great Migration settled in Bronzeville, which became the vibrant community known as The Black Metropolis, home to prominent entrepreneurs, musicians, writers, leaders, and businessmen in the early 20th century. Bronzeville subsequently went through decades of disinvestment, compounded by the construction of miles of concentrated public housing projects in the 1950s, including the infamous Robert Taylor Homes, which have since been demolished. Even before the beginning of reinvestment in Bronzeville, Centers for New Horizons has been operating since 1971, focusing on community collaborations to bring about positive change through a number of different programs.
Sweet Water’s partnership will involve multiple schools in Bronzeville: Jackie Robinson Elementary, Wells Prep Academy, which runs through 8th grade, and Dunbar Career Academy High School. On Tuesday, Oct. 16, 3rd grade students from Jackie Robinson and middle school students from Wells Prep attended a tour at the Chicago State Aquaponics facility, with Sweet Water Executive Director Emmanuel Pratt and CSU Aquaponics Club member Drew Hines. The next day, students, parents, teachers, and community representatives met to record interviews that were compiled by Vocalo, a Chicago area station that is the self-proclaimed “cool kid sister” to Chicago’s Public Radio station, WBEZ 91.5 FM and seeks to connect with a “younger, culturally diverse audience.” The interview was conducted in a classroom at Jackie Robinson Elementary, where Sweet Water has recently installed a mini aquaponics unit, constructed by Dennis Muhammed. Jason Axt constructed and installed the system at Wells Prep Academy and is currently developing the system for Dunbar Career Academy High School. During the interview at Jackie Robinson, students shared their reflections about aquaponics and their recent visit to the Chicago State Aquaponics Center.
This past Monday, Vocalo Morning AMp hosts Brian Babylon and Molly Adams shared recordings from these interviews accompanied by a panel discussion with the lead architects of this partnership, including Sweet Water’s Emmanuel Pratt, John Owens, the Director of Community Building for Centers for New Horizons, and Lorenzo Young, a community representative from the local school council who previously taught at Jackie Robinson. The words of these students as well as the commentary about the vision of what aquaponics might bring to this community represent Sweet Water’s vision for building resilient 21st century communities. Please listen to the interview and share with anyone who might be interested in what Sweet Water is doing in Chicago and Milwaukee schools!
This weekend, Executive Director Emmanuel Pratt will be serving as a judge in the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) Student Design Competition in Detroit on Saturday October 20. Students participating in the design challenge, Urban [space] US12… Idea Center, are charged with studying underutilized land in Southwest Detroit for developing new Urban Spaces. These new urban spaces should “preserve and enhance the existing sites and community [and] reflect on the historic significance of the neighborhood,” while designing a cohesive urban planning scheme which incorporates elements from the Greening of Detroit Initiative and designing an “Idea Center,” serving as a “nucleus for education and information focusing on holistic and healthy living.” This focus on social, economic, and environmental objectives is well-aligned with Sweet Water’s mission to educate for resilient 21st century communities through sustainable urban agriculture.
Participation as a judge in this design competition was built on a successful program run at Chicago State (CSU) with the Illinois chapter of NOMA this past summer. Designed for aspiring architects, this day-long seminar on urban agriculture, aquaponics, and the intersection with architecture covered background on repurposing industrial spaces and employed different drawing techniques through a design charette. The conclusion of the program involved the construction of raised garden beds and presentations of designs.
Both collaborations with NOMA are examples of using a complex multidisciplinary approach through architecture to revitalize urban spaces. Sweet Water approaches this mission by reaching out through like-minded organizations tackling similar issues.
Sweet Water Foundation has begun their fall professional development course for educators in the Milwaukee area who aim to introduce aquaponics in their classrooms this year. Five weekly training sessions, will walk participants through the process of designing, building, and maintaining an aquaponics system, and will be a forum to discuss curriculum connections as well. Sweet Water plans to offer similar courses in the future in both Milwaukee and Chicago. Please let us know if you would like to be on a list to receive information about future trainings.
Sweet Water Foundation plans to expand on successful involvement with teachers and schools in both Milwaukee and Chicago. In the past, Sweet Water has been involved in numerous initiatives to equip teachers with the skills and knowledge to implement successful aquaponics lessons to support STEM curriculum and engage students through hands-on experimentation. Sweet Water is collaborating with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) on their Professional Learning Community (PLC) supporting instruction of various STEM disciplines through urban agriculture and aquaponics. The Urban School Aquaponics PLC is funded by MPS and is an extension of the Urban School Aquaponics (USA) initiative, funded from 2009-2012 by a grant sponsored by NEA Foundation and AT&T Foundation. It will also build on work done by the Milwaukee Teacher Education Center (MTEC) and Sweet Water Foundation conducting teacher training and coaching teachers as part of the Midwest Aquaponics Expertise Development Initiative (MAEDI), funded by USDA. Teachers from a variety of content areas were trained in aquaponics and designed lessons which were delivered to students during the 2011-2012 school year.
This past summer, with a grant from the NEA Foundation, Education Coordinator Jill Frey and Milwaukee City Director, Jesse Blom, compiled a book of lesson plans written by teachers participating in both MAEDI and USA training initiatives. This booklet will serve as a guide to potential curriculum connections for teachers starting up with aquaponics in their classrooms.
In the future, Sweet Water’s digital platform AQUAPONS, currently in development, will serve to extend and connect these local initiatives to a wider scope. AQUAPONS will connect teachers, students, and independent learners to a growing international network. Sharing information about best practices in the field of aquaponics will strengthen and extend the initial work of educators, Sweet Water, and their partners in Milwaukee and Chicago.
In less than three years, interest in our education programming has expanded exponentially. Through all of the various forms, we have reached approximately 100 schools at every level of the education pipeline. A crucial component of our process has been connecting teachers and students from different schools practicing aquaponics, facilitating information exchange and generating new ideas. Last May, Sweet Water in Milwaukee coordinated an Aquaponics in the Classroom showcase event, or “harvest celebration,” where students and teachers presented their aquaponic designs and models, spoke of challenges and successes, and ate salads harvested from aquaponic systems. The feedback from this showcase encourages us to repeat this event annually or even biannually with our growing list of schools and partners.
We were really inspired by the enthusiasm and creativity of these students in design, construction, and presentation of their systems. As we kick off another year working with inspiration young people in Milwaukee and Chicago, we are excited to uncover what the new school year will bring!
Sweet Water has been involved in many types of projects; however, the cornerstone of our programming has been working with teachers to engage students in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics) disciplines, and extending this impact to their lives outside of the classroom. This programming involves, tours, workshops on composting and aquaponics, classroom visits, and construction of aquaponics systems, which may be small displays or occupy an entire greenhouse. Sweet Water seeks to provide this programming to all students, working to lower costs by incorporating in-kind donations and seeking additional funding when necessary.
In 2011, Sweet Water successfully piloted the Seed to Table program, funded by a $5000 donation from Newman’s Own Foundation, at Loyola Academy, a small school on the South Side of Milwaukee serving at-risk urban youth. The program involved construction of an aquaponic system inside a greenhouse on school property, and engaged 20 students through the process of growing healthy food from seed to harvest, including tilapia and a variety of vegetables both in garden beds and aquaponic systems. The program was enormously successful as a summer school program, followed by a class during the fall semester, and has been the basis for many school projects since.
We were thrilled when the Newman’s Own Foundation granted us additional funding this month to fully support 3 additional schools into the Seed to Table Program throughout the 2012-2013 school year. Sweet Water Foundation will use the funding to support Bradley Tech High School and South Division High School in Milwaukee, as well as Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago. The full range of programming includes tours, workshops, materials, labor and coaching throughout the process of aquaponic system construction. Some funds will be used to cover further outreach in Milwaukee and Chicago and Newman’s Own has already indicated that they will be following up with identical support throughout the 2012-2013 school year.
We are tremendously grateful to Newman’s Own for funding Sweet Water to work with these schools. As we continue to build on past successes and scale up our operation to provide additional programming, both face-to-face and digitally, we hope to gain the financial assistance necessary to provide scholarships to all schools requesting support to pursue aquaponics projects in the future.
On September 12, Stanley Pfrang of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation brought a delegation of representatives from the Indian water industry to Sweet Water.
The delegation included:
Ms. Karuna Gopal (Vanakuru), Foundation for Futuristic Cities
Mr. Pranab Dasgupta, Confederation of Indian Industry – Triveni Water Institute
Mr. Irfan Yasin, Jammu & Kashmir Lakes and Waterways Development Authority,
Mr. Vijay Kumar Garg, RUIFDCO – Rajasthan Urban Infrastructure Development Corporation,
Mr. Sanjay Bhat, Voltas Ltd.,
Dr. Sunny George, Mahattil Advisors Consultants and Educators, LLP,
Mr. Shajan John, Mahattil International LLC,
Lora Klenke, WEDC,
Stanley Pfrang, WEDC
The delegation visited Milwaukee in response to the mission that Wisconsin Economic Development Committee and the Water Council led to India in April. All involved members are interested in addressing shared issues of water availability and quality, examining available products and technologies which may provide solutions, while increasing commercial connections and collaboration between the water sectors of Wisconsin and India. The delegation was hosted at Sweet Water Milwaukee by City Director, Jesse Blom. Jesse presented many of the historic partnerships and connections Sweet Water has forged in India over the past couple years, and spoke of the potential for aquaponics and sustainable agriculture in both regions.
Milwaukee-based foundation offers urban agriculture and aquaculture education to nearby communities.
By Aleigh Acerni
August 13, 2012
Sweet Water Organics, an urban fish and vegetable farm in Milwaukee, Wis., uses aquaponics systems to grow vegetables,herbs, tilapia and perch in what was formerly an abandoned warehouse in the heart of Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood. While the farm supports its community by supplying local restaurants and farmers markets with its fresh, local produce, a partnership with its resident nonprofit organization, Sweet Water Foundation, is building a much larger legacy.
Sweet Water Foundation was originally created with one purpose: to accept donations of local grocery stores’ food waste, which would then be kept out of local landfills and turned into compost for Sweet Water Organics. But since its creation in 2009, the nonprofit has expanded its services and revised its mission; it now focuses on the development of educational programming for sustainability, specifically urban agriculture and aquaculture.
Sweet Water Foundation’s ultimate goal is to contribute to the solution of food security, employment, health, and environmental issues in its community and beyond. “We are really striving to create what we call ‘21st century neighborhoods,’” says Jesse Blom, city director of Sweet Water Foundation Milwaukee. “It’s essentially embracing the evolution of society and incorporating new technologies to create healthier communities.”
The foundation’s educational programs focus on sustainability and project-based, hands-on training. “Education is really at the heart of our mission,” Blom says. Activities include working with students to create miniature versions of the farm’s aquaponics set-ups, helping to maintain the farm’s vermicomposting, and more.
But not all of the organization’s programs happen on-site; Sweet Water also partners with local schools to set up demonstration projects, including aquaponics systems, raised bed gardens and composting, that are maintained by students. “We help them set up and integrate the practice and operation into their curriculum,” Blom says.
One the biggest challenges has been successfully creating educational programming that fits in with local schools’ varying curricula. “If we want to engage these community members, we are forced to provide a really broad spectrum and approach to what we’re doing,” Blom says. “We’re not getting all science teachers. We’ve had to be really open.”
To achieve this challenging level of flexibility, the organization partnered with the Milwaukee Education Center and several local teachers to create programs that focus on the STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, agriculture and mathematics), incorporating for an interdisciplinary approach. “Whatever you’re teaching, in some way you can connect it to these,” Blom says.
It’s working. Fifty schools came to visit and tour Sweet Water Organics last year, and at present, there are about 15 schools (a mixture of public, private and charter schools) with aquaponics programs in Milwaukee. In addition, there are about five or six more schools in Chicago that offer aquaponics and urban farming programs. (The organization’s Chicago branch opened last year and is a partnership with Chicago State University.) Plus, the programming also works for college students, graduate students, adult learners and non-traditional students like veterans groups.
“We’ve had such a flood of interest and traffic,” Blom says. “We’re meeting a very clear need.”
There’s much more to come. One of the foundation’s newest projects is a global outreach program called Growing Networks, which provides networking opportunities between people of different nations who work on aquaponics programs. The foundation’s pilot project was created last year through a collaboration between Sweet Water, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, global consulting firm Mahattil International, and St. Albert’s College in Cochin, India. Word has spread, and the foundation has received inquiries from groups in several other countries, including Mexico, Serbia, and Ghana, with requests to recreate the program.
Finally, Sweet Water Foundation recently won a grant through the Digital Media & Learning Competition, a competition sponsored by Hastac, MacArthur Foundation, Mozilla, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant will allow the foundation to create a free digital version of its urban agriculture training programs, which are expected to be online and available by this time next year.
But even with this multi-faceted approach, for Blom it all comes down to creating excitement about aquaponics — and the problems it can help solve — in urban environments anywhere in the world. “The look on a kid’s face when they pick up a worm, and they don’t know whether to throw up or scream with excitement — that sort of thing for me is absolutely priceless,” Blom says. “We like to get video testimonials from students. The concepts that some of these students are talking to us about … like, ‘You know this is the first time that learning has been fun for me,’ or ‘I have a much larger attention span when I’m using a tool to build a compost bin.’ They’re real measures of progress we get through testimonials. People get really excited.”
Three CPS students from the Calumet Is My Back Yard environmental stewardship service-learning program were funded by the Summer Youth Employment program of Chicago Public Schools and were hosted by Emmanuel Pratt, Executive director of Sweet Water and Head of Aquaponics at Chicago State University (CSU), along with members of the Aquaponics club at CSU and Sweet Water associates. Students worked for 20 hours per week from July 2nd through August 10th. Interns learned the principles behind aquaponics and were trained in various aspects of system design and maintenance, for both aquaponic systems and traditional garden beds. Their journals and final Powerpoint presentation document their process of mixing soil, seeding, reflection, journaling, cleaning pots, caring for plants, watering, transplanting, cleaning grow beds, and building a small-scale aquaponic system.
This was one of many programs run this summer, allowing students and youth from different programs to work together along with staff and mentors of varying experience and backgrounds. We hope to accommodate a larger group of interns in future summers.
Parkash Singh Badal, the chief minister of the Indian state of Punjab, visited Sweet Water following the memorial service for the victims of the shooting at the Sikh temple in Milwaukee’s Oak Creek. Click the other tab to see Sweet Water’s Press release denouncing the killings.
Sikhism began in the Punjab region, historically one of the most fertile regions on Earth, which was called upon to increase yields beginning in the 1970s to confront famine and poverty throughout India. Decades of intense agriculture in the region has led to a the current crisis concerning the quantity and quality of soil and groundwater resources.
Punjab and other regions of India may now be fertile ground for Aquaponics, a naturally water-conserving method to grow crops and fish in rural or urban communities, with only 10% of the water and none of the chemical fertilizers often used in traditional agriculture. Considering India’s success and widespread use of information technology, it may also be an ideal place to introduce Sweet Water’s developing digital aquaponic training platform, AQUAPONS, as a way to spread information about the practice of aquaponics while creating a wide support network of budding aquapons.
Sweet Water extends its deepest condolences to the Sikh communities of
Milwaukee, the United States, Punjab and throughout the world for the recent
shooting in Oak Creek. Today, the funeral for the victims took place at Oak
Creek High School. The service focused on moving forward in a positive light
after this tragedy.
During the service, the son of the temple’s high priest told a story of a boy’s
dream about two wolves. The boy told his mother that in his dream, one wolf
feasted upon hatred, while the other wolf feasted upon love. The boy wondered,
which wolf would prevail? The mother responded, it depends which is the wolf
that you and we feed.
The priest’s son concluded, “Today I am at peace and I know which wolf my
father fed. It’s your practice that creates the peace.”
Another speaker shared these wise words: “This is an unbearable moment that
will change the whole world for the better. We Sikhs have drawn upon our high
spirit, because our response to hatred with love is a field of action that will move
through all of God’s children.”
In this “high spirit”, today we welcomed the Chief Minister of Punjab, Parkash
Singh Badal, to Sweet Water to see the practice of aquaponics in action. He
toured our farm with his entourage and was impressed at the effectiveness of this
relatively new technology. Chief Minister Badal is interested in aquaponics as an
agricultural technology for high crop yield and for water conservation.
Like Wisconsin, the Punjab is suffering from a drought this summer. The annual
monsoon rains were late and less intense that usual. Earlier this month the Chief
Minister has sought a relief package of about US$430 million from the Indian
central government for Punjabi farmers.
Sweet Water hopes to continue the strong history of Wisconsin-Punjabi relations
over the coming years by establishing demonstration projects in Punjabi schools,
and over time, as appropriate, in Punjabi and Indian farms.
Sweet Water’s Growing Networks project developed through a collaboration between Sweet Water Foundation, UW-Madison, and Mahattil International LLC. In June, 8 students from UWM were trained by Sweet Water staff and traveled to Kerela, India to partner with students and staff from St. Alberts College to establish an Aquaponics Demonstrations Center.
The system constructed at St Alberts College will be integrated into the Aquaculture curriculum and aims to increase awareness and knowledge of aquaponics locally, nationally in India, and globally. We believe that the water conserving benefits of aquaponics lend it as an innovative form of agriculture for 21st century communities throughout the world.
For more information and photos from the project, visit the Growing Networks website.
Growing Networks was principally organized by Shajan John, Director of Mahattil LLC. and adjunct associate professor of Global Marketing at the Rader School of Business at Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). Sweet Water Foundation direction of the project was led by Chaya Nayak and Jason Axt, who both began as interns with Sweet Water. Jason works with Sweet Water in Chicago, specializing in building and other educational capacities. Chaya continues to study the impact of the Growing Network partnership while working on her Masters of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California- Berkeley and also serves on the Sweet Water Foundation Board of Directors.
This project has been a historic first for Sweet Water Foundation as an extensive and involved international partnership. We hope to continue this project next summer and pursue similar projects in India and other countries in response to shared issues affecting communities around the globe.