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Each summer, Sweet Water Foundation’s Perry Ave Community Farm brings locally grown food to more than 200 families each week on Chicago’s South Side. “Fresh Food Fridays” has become a neighborhood tradition in the Englewood/Washington Park community from June to October. Each week patrons take home fresh harvests of collard greens,kale, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, sunflower seeds, okra, turnips, peppers, basil , mint, watermelon and more. Come rain or shine Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) team members, youth apprentices and interns have been there to serve up fresh foods to neighbors, friends, and visitors. Fresh Food Fridays are also the vehicle through which SWF harvests large quantities of produce for distribution to local schools, churches, and non-profits that set up market stands to increase access to quality produce across the community.
However, Fresh Food Fridays is so much more than a farmer’s market. Sweet Water Foundation believes that food is an underutilized force for improving health, wellness, and socio-cultural connections in our community. Fresh Food Fridays provides an opportunity for SWF staff to give tours, host nutrition and cooking lessons, document the history of the community through photos and record interviews, and co-create a vision new possibilities for the Perry Ave Community with visitors. Elders share stories of their experiences in the neighborhood before blight. Mothers, grandmothers and uncles share recipes. Others offer preparation tips to encourage fellow patrons to experiment with unfamiliar foods. Some came out of pure curiosity. Regardless of what brought them to Fresh Food Fridays or which food they walked away with in their bags, all were able to experience the feel-good atmosphere of creativity and rebirth in this communal space.
With the support of The Mozilla Hive Chicago Learning Network and the Chicago Community Trust, the Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces project brought together a diverse group of 25 youth who curated their own project-based learning experience to envision and recreate an education and recreation space for youth from a vacant lot on Chicago’s South side.
Over the course of Summer 2016, the Re[CREATE]Ed Spaces program engaged youth from Chicago Architecture Foundation’s (CAF) Teen Fellows Program and Sweet Water Foundation’s (SWF) Apprenticeship and Outreach Program in a 6-week project that took participants through a full design+build program resulting in youth and community-inspired renderings for a full pocket park in Washington Park and construction of a mini-pocket park on a formerly vacant lot.
Youth collaborated in 6 design/build sessions over a 4-week time period in July, followed by 2 build weeks (week 5-6), and a culminating event at the end of week 6. Youth also established DiscoverDesign.org accounts and were issued participation badges from CAF for their work, exposing them to and engaging them in a learning pathway above and beyond this project.
Core programming consisted of 4 sessions focused on design and 2 sessions that engage youth in the construction of elements of their design (e.g., park benches). Sessions were led by professional architects, tradespeople, and/or CAF/SWF staff. Sweet Water Foundation hosted a culminating Harvest Celebration event in week 6 to celebrate the completion of the project and provide youth the opportunity to share their families and friends.
Ultimately, the youth’s voices will be the driving force behind the design of a pocket park and provided the narrative of the story of the project that will make the construction of this new youth-inspired space possible next summer (Summer 2017).
March 28, 2016
Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) is excited to announce the completion of aquaponics projects in partnership with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) at three high schools and two elementary schools.
During the 2015-16 school year, SWF worked with MPS teachers and students to install aquaponics systems at The Alliance School of Milwaukee, Byron Kilbourn School, Casimir Pulaski High School, Ronald Wilson Reagan College Preparatory High School and Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology.
In addition to these projects, SWF helped to reestablish an aquaponics program at Barack Obama School of Career and Technical Education.
Jesse Blom, SWF Milwaukee Director, gives credit to the teachers and students who have adopted these aquaponics projects. “The teachers and students are the ones who activate their learning on a daily basis, so they deserve most of the credit. MPS is using aquaponics systems to teach a variety of different subjects in an interdisciplinary way. Working with aquaponics systems can improve students’ eco-literacy and awareness of healthy foods, and can provide meaningful hands-on work, creating a positive classroom environment. We look forward to working with MPS on these projects for years to come.”
The new projects are part of the Urban Schools Aquaponics (USA) Initiative, funded by a grant from AT&T and the NEA Foundation. Over the past two years, SWF has provided intensive, hands-on training to 15 MPS teachers on aquaponics design, construction, operation, and maintenance. SWF has worked with students, teachers and administrators to install the aquaponics laboratories, and SWF provides ongoing consultation and assistance to these schools.
Since 2010, Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) has partnered with Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) on aquaponics projects at the elementary school and high school levels. SWF has trained teachers, provided supplies and materials, assisted with installation of aquaponics systems in schools, and provided direct instruction to students. In addition to the most recent projects, SWF has set up programs at Lynde and Harry Bradley Technology and Trade School and South Division High School.
Aquaponics programs have grown considerably in MPS since 2008, the year the National Education Association Foundation, with help from AT&T, began supporting MPS’ Urban Aquaponics initiative with grants. The program was developed to advance Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education among low-income and minority students and introduce students to a sustainable form of farming.
Expanding STEM education is part of MPS efforts to close the achievement gap, one of the district’s Eight Big Ideas to accelerate student achievement.
More information about SWF can be found at www.sweetwaterfoundation.com
More information on SWF’s partnership with MPS on aquaponics initiatives can be found at the following links:
November 5, 2015
Jesse Blom, SWF City Director in Milwaukee, recently visited EARTH University in Costa Rica, where he was invited by Professor Alex Pacheco to assist with the school’s urban and peri-urban agriculture program. EARTH University is an international university for sustainable agriculture, with students and faculty from over 40 countries.
During his 10-day stay at the university, Jesse taught an aquaponics mini-course for a group of fourth-year university students, and assisted a group of second-year students with a start-up aquaponics tourism enterprise.
Jesse’s two day mini-course was a part of the university’s new elective course, “Agricultura Controlada” (“Controlled Environment Agriculture”). The course blended classroom lectures and discussions of aquaponics practice with hands-on work with the newly established aquaponics pilot facility. Course material ranged from system design and water chemistry to commercial applications and the economics of aquaponics.
Jesse also led second-year EARTH students in their efforts to lead tours and workshops at the new aquaponics facility. The center of their efforts will be hands-on workshops using a Barrel-Ponics aquaponics system. During his stay, Jesse and the fourth-year students assisted the second-year students in the construction of this system.
In the summer of 2014, Sweet Water Foundation hosted Professor Alex Pacheco at the Heart Haus in Milwaukee during his sabbatical, including him in their aquaponics training program for Milwaukee Public Schools, and giving him a tour of our Chicago facilities. We look forward to continuing the positive and productive relationship with EARTH University in the future!
On June 6th, an intergenerational and interdisciplinary group of community residents, University faculty and students, and Urban Agriculture practitioners gathered at the Sweet Water Foundation’s Think-Do House in the Englewood/Washington Park neighborhood for a Culinary Medicine workshop. The focus of the workshop was to provide an opportunity to discuss and share practical knowledge about how food plays a role in health and nutrition-related issues within the community.
The curriculum for the program has been adapted from the Culinary Medicine program at Tulane University and brought to Pritzker by Dr. Geeta Maker-Clark, a Clinical Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Integrative Medical Education, and Dr. Sonia Oyola, Family Medicine Clerkship Director. Throughout the course of the program, Kendall College’s Chefs taught students how to prepare meals incorporating healthy ingredients and how to present this information to patients through hands-on cooking classes at Kendall.
Culinary Medicine combines the art of cooking and eating with the science and research around food, nutrition, and medicine, to help prevent and control common health conditions. An innovative and collaborative means of educating medical professionals about nutrition, culinary medicine prepares students for a career of teaching and counseling patients on some of the most important aspects of healthy lifestyle.
The workshop at Sweet Water Foundation’s Think-Do House allowed students of the Culinary Medicine program the opportunity to share what they learned directly with a collection of community residents representing an intersection of 10 neighborhoods across the greater Chicagoland area. The keystone of the Culinary Medicine program has been the opportunity to connect with community, and teach the concepts, cooking methods and simple healthful recipes to those who can use them most. Ultimately, the project aims to get medical students out into the communities they serve, as well as make them excellent counselors of good nutrition in the office setting.
For the past year, Emmanuel Pratt (SWF Executive Director) and Rashaan Meador (Sr. Program Coordinator for the Media Communication Arts, Architecture & Construction programs with the Career and Technical Education and Office of College and Career Success) have been exploring opportunities for potential interdisciplinary collaboration. Given CTE’s focus on offering high school students the chance to get a head start on preparing for college and careers 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 Rashaan and Emmanuel recognized a tremendous opportunity for cross pollination of programming.
For roughly 6 weeks, Sweet Water Foundation (SWF) and CPS’s Career Technology Education (CTE) program collaborated on an ‘Outreach and Apprenticeship’ pilot project within select classes at ACE (Architecture Construction & Engineering ) Tech and Simeon Career Academy. Building upon an initial Google Sketchup concept 3d model for the Perry Ave Community Garden site, the SWF team began to collaborate with select teachers and high school students within the architecture and construction programs at ACE Tech and Simeon Career Academy in collaboration on the design/build of 20 separate 4’x12’x2′ raised garden beds.
Led under the collaborative guidance of Emmanuel Pratt(SWF), Isiah Rowsey (Simeon Career Academy), Jerome Thymes (ACE Tech), and Juan Banda (ACE Tech), the 20 raised beds were designed and initially constructed on site across both schools. Once completed, the garden beds were then transported to the Perry Ave Community Garden site, filled with a custom organic soil mix supplied by Purple Cow Organics and will now be used by local residents, veterans and their families within the surrounding community as community allotment gardens.
The project culminated on Saturday (May 16th) whereby approximately 60 people ranging in ages 2-82 converged at the Think-Do House over the course of the late morning and early afternoon to participate in the creation of the Perry Ave Community Garden. The focus of this volunteer day was to share in appreciation and extend support for the ongoing efforts of teams at Simeon Career Academy and ACE Tech that participated in the creation of the 20 raised garden beds. Volunteers included local residents, high school students, teams from IBM, Ross Barney Architects, and Hyatt, Orrin Williams from the Center for Urban Transformation, and 20th Ward Alderman Cochran.
As a result of this collaboration, SWF is currently working with CTE to select youth from each school’s Construction & Architecture tracks to work with SWF as paid summer interns under the Harbor Freight Tools “Tools For Schools” Grant – a career pathway exposure project for youth. The work that the students will be doing over the summer will also be part of the “One Summer Chicago” initiative offering career pathway exposure project for youth. A total of 25 youth + 2 teachers as part of pilot project for up to 100 youth and 10 teachers on site for experiential ed tied to schools.
The evolution of the Perry Ave Community Garden site follows along the continuum of the ongoing transformation of otherwise blighted or unused spaces along the Perry Ave Corridor in alignment with the Goto2040 plan, the Green Healthy Neighborhood Initiative, the Food Plan of Chicago, and the Cultural Plan of Chicago.
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.