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More than ten participants from the Guest House of Milwaukee recently attended a Sweet Water Foundation workshop series hosted by two Sweet Water Foundation interns at the Guest House on 13th and Juneau in Milwaukee. The Guest House provides shelter, housing, education, and services to Milwaukee’s homeless who seek to transform their lives with dignity and purpose.
During the workshop, SWF interns shared some information about the elements of aquaponics as well as how and why aquaponics is practiced. The workshop participants learned basic aquaponics maintenance as well as how to design and build a system. The workshop culminated with participants building a 10-gallon aquaponics system, complete with goldfish and seeds. Workshop participants and interns also became involved in a discussion about the social justice issues surrounding food security involving racism and classism, food deserts, health disparities, and some of the ways the urban agriculture movement is seeking to address these issues.
Guest House has recently launched the Cream City Gardens project, an urban agriculture initiative that will provide fresh, home-grown food to the Guest House and its neighbors, and will provide job training for formerly homeless individuals in urban gardening and the green industry.
Many of the skills that participants had used at Cream City Gardens lent themselves well to the Sweet Water Foundation’s aquaponics workshop. Because aquaponics is an integrated STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, mathematics) discipline, it allows all practitioners to bring their own skills and strengths to the worktable. One workshop participant was skilled with hand tools and took the lead in assembling the grow bed. Another participant had worked in a fish tank factory. The workshop was composed of participants interested and experienced in fields as varied as fishing, chemistry, and fiberglass.
The Guest House of Milwaukee provides educational opportunities to their clients on topics ranging from job interviewing to financial literacy to art classes. This series was the first aquaponics workshop to occur at the Guest House. Many of the workshop participants expressed interest in building other aquaponics systems for personal use once they attained permanent housing.
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.
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.”
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.
By Express News Service – KOCHI – New Indian Express
12th June 2012 09:38 AM
Eight students from the University of Wisconsin in Madison, USA, are in the city on a mission – to promote the concept of aquaponics. These students are part of an internship team who intend to set up a demonstration unit of aquaponics at St Albert’s College here during this month.
“They are trying to introduce a new concept called aquaponics,” said Ajith Thomas John, associate professor, Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries at St Albert’s College. “It combines aquaculture, which is raising aquatic animals in tanks, with hydroponics, which is growing plants in water,” he said.
Apart from the visiting students, the team includes two representatives of the Milwaukee-based Sweet Water Foundation, which engages in interdisciplinary programmes like aquaponics to teach students of science, technology, engineering and maths. “The beauty of aquaponics lies in the fact that it is so versatile and you can really innovate according to whatever is available locally,” said Chaya Nayak, who is on the board of directors at Sweet Water.
Both Nayak and her colleague Jason Axt insist that aquaponics is a highly sustainable and cost-effective way of food production. “From what we have done in the US, not only did we receive the gains from the fish production but also got higher returns on the vegetables,” said Nayak, explaining that vegetables grown by aquaponics were in demand because of the strong organic food movement in the US.
Aquaponic systems can be of any size – large ones for commercial purposes, medium-sized ones for NGOs or schools or a small aquarium-like in homes or classrooms. Maintenance of the system could take a maximum of two hours a day, according to Axt who is a technical consultant at Sweet Water. “Time taken would depend on how big and complex the system is,” he said.
Nayak agreed there were hurdles to clear such as the need for electricity and maintenance of the system, but felt that renewable sources such as solar panels can be a possible solution. “As of now, we are trying to find ways to adopt this model in Kerala and to garner the local community’s interest and involvement in it,” she said.
Another team member Shajan John from Mahattil International LLC, which is into educational consulting, was responsible for introducing the concept to Ajith Thomas John of St Albert’s College.
“Since Kerala imports nearly all of its vegetables from other states, I think the concept of ‘grow your own food’ should be popularised here,” he said. “That is precisely what we are trying to do here,” he added.
The team hopes to set up a fully-functional aquaponics system at the Department of Aquaculture and Fisheries at St Albert’s by the end of the month and plan to hold a one-day workshop on it to introduce it to the local community.