Jesse Blom Talk to Agriculture Educators Conference, 6/24 in Green Bay


Aquaponics, the symbiotic cultivation of fish and plants, is recognized by teachers around the world as a tremendous hands-on learning tool for many different disciplines. Aquaponics is also recognized for its great agricultural potential for increased and diversified crop yields, while conserving water and soil. As our students grow older, they will likely encounter the technique more and more as the years go on.

Intending to de-mystify aquaponics and create connections between practitioners of aquaponics throughout the world, Sweet Water Foundation has developed a new online curriculum for learning about aquaponics, and for recognizing skills gained. Sweet Water’s curriculum utilizes a series of badges, which are awarded to learners as they participate in hands-on projects, such as the construction and maintenance of small-scale aquaponics systems.

The presentation will include a demo of the online curriculum. Teachers will receive instructions about how to get involved with this program. They will also receive a printed book of compiled, cross-curricular aquaponics lesson plans.

Conference Organized by

Jeff Hicken
Education Consultant/State FFA Advisor
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Career and Technical Education Team
Department of Public Instruction
“Hicken, Jeffrey A. DPI” <[email protected]>

Bridgett Neu <[email protected]>

Media Coverage

Milwaukee-based foundation offers urban agriculture and aquaculture education to nearby communities.By Aleigh Acerni
August 13, 2012
Sweet Water Foundations hands-on program

Sweet Water Foundations educational programs focus on sustainability and hands-on training.

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 Milwaukees 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 Foundations 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. Its essentially embracing the evolution of society and incorporating new technologies to create healthier communities.

The foundations 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 farms aquaponics set-ups, helping to maintain the farms vermicomposting, and more.

But not all of the organizations 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 were doing, Blom says. Were not getting all science teachers. Weve 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 youre teaching, in some way you can connect it to these, Blom says.

Its 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 organizations 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.

Weve had such a flood of interest and traffic, Blom says. Were meeting a very clear need.

Theres much more to come. One of the foundations 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 foundations pilot project was created last year through a collaboration between Sweet Water, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, global consulting firm Mahattil International, and St. Alberts 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 kids face when they pick up a worm, and they dont 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 Im using a tool to build a compost bin. Theyre real measures of progress we get through testimonials. People get really excited.

Last edited by Godsil.   Page last modified on January 29, 2013

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