The new book is provisionally titled, CPUL CITY: Making urban agriculture happen, authored by Katrin Bohn & André Viljoen. It is a sequel to the book, CPULs Continuous Productive Urban Landscapes: Designing Urban Agriculture for Sustainable Cities (Architectural Press, 2005, http://www.amazon.com/Continuous-Productive-Urban-Landscapes-Agriculture/dp/0750655437), which aims to update and extend Bohn&Viljoen Architects’ concept for introducing productive urban landscapes, including urban agriculture, into cities as essential elements of sustainable urban infrastructure. The new book reviews recent research and projects on the subject and presents a toolkit of actions aimed at making the CPUL City happen. It will be published in English by Routledge.

“And Every City Deserves a Sweet Water”

by James J. Godsil, ABD, co-founder Sweet Water Organics, Sweet Water Foundation President, Sweet Water Foundation

Sweet Water is an emergent, hybrid enterprise experiment, a social business and innovation center, advancing the commercialisation, democratisation, and globalisation of aquaponics, an eco system method of food production. But Sweet Water offers more than aquaponics produce and protein production. Sweet Water is a science lab; a school; an eco-tourist destination; an artist and tinkerer’s workshop; a community and new enterprise center. Sweet Water aspires to grow urban farmers, green tech start-up businesses, beloved communities, and… organic cities!

The Stars Aligning for Great Aquaponics Experiment

Asequence of events inspired me to team up with a web of partners to launch the Sweet Water experiment. The first happened in 2005 when young citizens at a public meetingin Riverwest Milwaukee, the most successful “integrating neighbourhood” in Wisconsin, challenged the community to constructively respond to an incident of “black on white, straight on gay” violence rather than pound drums of race rage. This inspired my deciding to check out Will Allen’s Growing Power, which I had heard involved an African American ex-pro basketball player harvesting urban “waste streams” to grow rich soil for use by teams of urban youth transforming vacant lots into community gardens. I was “seized as if by a madness” by the Growing Power “magic” and decided to intensely promote Will’s teams through the MilwaukeeRenaissance.com wiki platform. My work led to a front page story
about Will in the local alternative weekly, “The Shepherd Express,” and a position on the Growing Power Board.

I focused deeply on the Growing Power model, both its food production systems, especially vermiculture and aquaponics, and its methods for “growing farmers and communities” with a hybrid model, aimed both at multiple income streams through standard market sales as well as funds from workshops, tours, foundations, donors, and public private partnerships.

A number of other developments were critical in setting the stage for the Sweet Water aquaponics experiment. In the spring of 2006 Michael Macy, a State Department cultural attache and new friend through our mutual interest in the poetry of Rumi, lent great luster to Milwaukee’s urban agriculture govement/industry when he orchestrated a London visit by Will Allen to address the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures & Commerce as well as a visit by an eminent group of London “agrarians” in the Fall of 2007. The “London Farmers” then published a now classic report, “Edible Cities” including Growing Power projects in Milwaukee, Chicago, and New York. The Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Network(MUANbecame both an inspirational/educational coalition as well as a grass roots political force. In March, 2008, MUAN organized a highly successful international urban agriculture conference at which the head of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, Rocky Marcoux, proudly proclaimed Milwaukee as the centre of American urban agriculture. A month later urban agriculture made front page news in Milwaukee, for the first time, with a report on a partnership between Fred Binkowski of the Great Lakes Water Institute and Growing Power to raise 10,000 perch in Will’s aquaponic system. Jon Bales’ Urban Aquaculture Centre connected Will to Binkowski, as well as drumming up community awareness of urban fish farming’s possibilities. In September 2008 Will won the coveted MacArthur genius award. My daughter Rachel Godsil, a law professor and convener of the Obama Urban Policy Team, introduced me to some of that
group’s leadership, increasingly intrigued, as was First Lady Michelle Obama, by the flaws of oil based, unhealthy, and polluting industrial agriculture system. My business partner Josh Fraundorf led our roof system restoration company to a $40,000 profit for Sweet Water investing. His friend and business associate offered very low rent, $15,000 in capital, and the promise of another $20,000 in sweat equity as a partner in Sweet Water. Emmanuel Pratt, a doctoral candidate in Columbia University’s Planning and Architecture Department, film maker, and close associate of Will Allen, signed on the help out with the social business,
democratizing, and globalizing vision piece; Josh and Steve to focus on the commercial upscaling.

A “grand alliance” was manifesting! The stage was surely set for an impressive
commencement on December 31, 2008, when the Mayor’s City Development chief, Rocky
Marcoux, along with Will Allen, pledged to provide support for what has become
an audacious experiment called Sweet Water.

Sweet Water Vision Shared at Wild Flower Bakery

The group proceeded from meetings at Wild Flower bakery to the new Sweet Water site. The building felt colder than it was outside.

ADD GODSILL picture

We believed aquaponics to be quite possibly humanity’s most earth friendly and prolific method of food production, a major response to the challenge of food security, global warming, and the transition from industrial cities of consumptive capitalism to organic cities with cultures of respect and care, for all life forms, in harmony with nature. We opened our story to the public and the media from the get go, despite the possibility of substantial mistakes. Zorba the Greek was present in my mind’s eye, as was this mantra: “You wished it stranger. You left the path of your own free will. And you are lost if you believe in danger.” The cause was important enough that it had to be tried. And, we’re still trying!

Milwaukee a Fertile Field For Earth Friendly, Science/Engineering Enhanced Food
Production

“Milwaukee is a city with a history that made Sweet Water possible.” While the people who imagined the business, the farm, and the “academy,” came forth with money, time, work, and a noteworthy emotional/spiritual investment, the close in founders are embed in a community within a region whose active leaders across many sectors very brilliantly prepared the way. Milwaukee is the leading industrial and commercial city of Wisconsin, home of naturalist environmentalisticons John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson. Milwaukee is renown for its food and beverage industry, i.e. think cheese and beer, its machine tool, engineering, and medical technologies enterprise, and its embrace of education, culture, and commonwealth support, like its renown Olmsted parks, or heralded “Sewer Socialist city government” of 40 years standing up through 1950. Will
Allen’s breakthrough, so critical for Sweet Water’s emergence, was only possible because a vanguard of diverse supporters helped create the political climate that inspired the City Government at all levels to help adjust city law and zoning rules to minimize archaic, industrial city obstacles to this new “bio-technology, integrated biological engineering system in urban agriculture architecture” that is vermiculture and aquaponics food production.

Internet Resources for a Milwaukee Spring

While Milwaukee’s abundance in human capital and social formations was a necessary
condition for Sweet Water’s emergence, the harnessing of the power of the internet provided the sufficient factor. E-mail exchange and wiki platform resources played a vital role in pulling together the “Grand Alliance” advancing the Sweet Water experiment. The internet connecting of people across social sectors, identity groups, and institutional boundaries was key to the original web of Sweet Water supporters from government, business, educational, and “new agrarian” circles. Information and images were narrowly and widely diffused that provided inspiration and documentation of new possibilities. The digital exchange of information across boundaries was augmented by meetings at cafes or the Sweet Water site, all of which provided good times and inspired commitments. The internet exchanges via e-mails and collaboration platforms eventually found their way to local hard copy media outlets, and eventually, with enormous significance, to the metropolitan daily, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, NPR, and NBC Nightly News. National collaborative platforms like Tufts University’s Comfoods, i.e. the “Comfoodies,”
played an important part. Some early Sweet Water challenges around issues of proper
lighting and plant/fish ratios would have been avoided had the founders been wired into some now international sharing sites like Aquaponics Gardening and Backyard Aquaponics. Fund raising events, governmental, banking, and investor connectivity were all substantially enhanced, with much more “bang for the buck,” by virtue of the miracle of the world wide web. Recent development in “data design” and graphic presentations have made much more intelligible the conveyance of complex concepts, hypotheticals, and modeling in real time meetings as well as cross national exchange.

An IBM 2011 film included the statement that Sweet Water’s experiment could be the
mainframe for the “organic city revolution.” It’s accompanying report said “Milwaukee could become more economically viable and help the world feed itself through urban agriculture and aquaponics—water efficient systems that can transform abandoned factories and vacant lots into urban farms that raise fish and vegetables.”

IBM, the US Department of Agriculture, the State Department, universities and “aquapons” from across the planet are now gearing up to accelerate the deployment of these little worlds that might yield great bounty in terms of food as well as “earth community wisdom.”

Multiple Bottom Lines & Income Streams

The Sweet Water “proof of concept” for the sustainability of the world’s first fish vegetable farm in a re-purposed factory building involved different points of view. Some of the expanding circle of partners believed that there would be sufficient revenues from the sale of tilapia, perch, and the produce they nourished to validate the system and inspire replications large and small.

Others viewed Sweet Water Organics as a necessary research and development project with too many unknowns to expect quick green money bottom line performance. Sweet Water was seen as a science lab, a multifaceted 21st century school “without walls,” an eco-business incubator, an emerging community center, and possibly a model for urban infill development with a “Sweet Water Village” potential.

This group proposed a focus on multiple bottom lines, e.g. ecology and equity, as well as multiple-income streams, e.g. fish and produce sales, but also compost, worms, worm castings, small plot intensive garden structures, workshops, tours, urban agriculture and aquaponics installations.

Some also advocated a hybrid business model for Sweet Water Organics that would involve the establishment of a non-profit, i.e. the Sweet Water Foundation, to harvest the hard won information derived from “Organics’” research and development, and incorporate it into education and inspiration for schools and community. Sweet Water Organics would “profit” from the good will and expanding web of competent and committed partners in the urban agriculture/aquaonics ®Evolution!

James Godsil, introducing the Sweet Water project to visitors at a regular Sunday tour.

Sweet Water For All

Since digging the first of 6 eight thousand gallon tanks housing over 25,000 fish in 2009, Sweet Water’s transformation of a century old, 25,000 sq. ft. derelict factory complex has mainstreamed aquaponics and inspired scores of replications, large and small. Responding to a laudatory “Harvard Business Review” note on Sweet Water, the “Economist” opined Sweet Water as “what’s right about America.” The “Wall Street Journal,” “New York Times,” NBC Nightly News, and NPR have echoed this notion, while IBM has urged Milwaukee to invest millions in an Aquaponics Innovation Center to harness the business relevant R & D of Milwaukee’s new School of Fresh Water Sciences with the showcase learning, demonstrating,labor and market capacity building urban agriculture platforms like Sweet Water and Will
Allen’s Growing Power, the original inspiration for Sweet Water.

Sweet Water currently consists of Sweet Water Organics, Inc., i.e. “The Farm,” the Sweet Water Foundation, i.e. “The Academy,” and a globalizing enterprise ecosystem, i.e. “The Grand Alliance.”. The Sweet Water Farm focuses on providing fresh, safe, and sustainable food for local communities. The Academy harvests knowledge for life long learning and resilient community creation through tours, workshops, and digital training modules in sustainable urban agriculture practices. The emerging, global Sweet Water Grand Alliance

is networking partners large, e.g. IBM, UN Global Compact Cities, major universities, city governments, and business associations, and small, e.g. 40 Chicago and Milwaukee primary and secondary schools, veterans and community gardening groups, start up coops and family businesses, on local, national, and international collaboration fields. Many of the Sweet Water “partners” share visions of ten percent of the world’s homes and schools harvesting knowledge and food from miniature aquaponics farms within a generation or two, facilitated
by open source knowledge sharing among global networks of “aquapons” as well as a major aquaponics innovation center in every city. Milwaukee School of Engineering professor Shajan John, who has orchestrated an aquaponics start-up collaboration connecting 12 UW-Madison students, Sweet Water, and Kerelea India partners, has his eyes on the prize of 100,000,000 aquaponics miniatures across the world by 2025. Sweet Water Foundation educators Emmanuel Pratt, Jesse Blom, and Jill Frey see their USDA grant to equip teachers with aquaponics systems and curricula as a first step toward the introduction of a pedagogical method of transformative possibility, not only for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, i.e. STEM competencies, but also for the acquisition of a higher sensibility,
ecological and global citizen mindfulness. The Academy recently won a $175,000
MacArthur competition for digital media and K through life learning.

Asset Based Sequential Economic and Community Development

The Sweet Water Founders believed that harnessing the resources available to them in pursuit of a vision that was “in the grain” of the needs of the time, they would set in motion an “auto-catalytic” or self-organizing process that would bring new partners with new resource sets, who would bring yet more partners with yet more resources, in a virtuous cycle of evolutionand growth.

Here were some of the initial resources brought to the project:

  • a mammoth 10,000 sq. ft. building with 3 built-in, concrete lined, below the ground fish tanks waiting for transformation from their original use as a rail road car bed

  • an acre of secluded land outside amenable to large scale composting without

bothering any neighbors(rail road tracks and lightly used factories nearby)

  • a start-up capitalization of about $50,000 the Community Roofing partners were able to bring forth during the first 6 months

  • a wide and deep network of artisans, mechanics, horticulturalists, and fish scientists already showing up in various edge of history Milwaukee urban agriculture projects, e.g. Growing Power, Great Lakes Water Institute, Milwaukee Urban Agriculture Network, Urban Ecology Center, UW-Extension, the Victory Garden Initiative, Walnut Way, Alice’s Garden, Future Green, and more

  • a track record of collaboration with complex and dangerous projects that marked the Lindner/Community projects during the previous 5 plus years

  • communications connectivity with the mainstream media and the increasingly

denseinternet platforms available not just to attract local but also national and
international help

The core theory was that Sweet Water Organics could make a sufficient mark with its start-up team as to attract new sources of capital: green dollars, social, cultural, and spiritual capital that would launch the good ship Sweet Water for fruitful projects over the years and throughout Milwaukee and beyond

And Sweet Water’s power derives from its commitment to social and environmental justice, as well as the green dollar bottom line that pays the bills.

Here’s a founder’s vision of this part of the story:

Sweet Water, the Farm and the Academy,
Is a museum alive, an evocative destination, and a science lab!

Sweet Water is a high tech, high science,
High craft, high art

Center for safe and delicious food production—
fresh fish and produce, locally sourced!

Sweet Water is a center for hands on education
For young and old.

A center for attracting and energizing
Inventors, innovators, enterprisers…active citizens!

Civic minded celebrators!

Transforming our great industrial cities
Into even more inspiring organic cities.

Every city in every country,
In all of earth’s great civilizations and cultures…

Deserves a Sweet Water and a Growing Power!

Last edited by Godsil. Based on work by Tyler Schuster.  Page last modified on November 16, 2012

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