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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.”
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.
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.
Following Milwaukee’s successful submission to the IBM Smarter Cities Challenge centered on urban agriculture and aquaponics, Sweet Water Foundation President James Godsil traveled to several cities in India as part of a tour sponsored by the US State Depeartment in the summer of 2011. From talks to faculty and graduate students at a number of Central Institutes of Fisheries Education (CIFE), to discussing urban agriculture with residents of Cuttack slums, Godsil facilitated information exchange regarding the use and innovation of aquaponics and sustainable agriculture practices around the world.
Following this successful visit, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation sponsored a trade delegation to India last month. Shajan John, an adjunct associate professor at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE), has a history of merging partnerships between India and the US to ensure companies doing business between the two countries. John represented Sweet Water as a Research Fellow for Glocalization during this WEDC trip to India and has helped pave the way for ongoing partnership between Sweet Water and Indian entities.