By Amanda Buchholz
Sustainability Studies intern
Overharvesting, introducing foreign and invasive species, unbalancing a balanced ecosystem, and changing the landscape are all examples of how society can contribute to the degradation of nature. My internship at Green Bridge Growers (GBG) has shown me ways of preserving nature while also learning to look at the signs that nature is giving you.
I have learned more about a balanced ecosystem and what is needed at GBG than I have in any science class I have taken. Hands on is the best way to learn in my opinion. Also, we make sure to use natural organic, sustainable products when trying to give the plants extra nourishment. We can use the fish waste compost, not all of it is used in the aquaponics system. Jan has purchased seaweed extracts and Wes and Jan have both used fish emulsion for extra nourishment in our gardening. I have also been introduced to companion planting. When certain plants are planted together they keep away certain bugs or they provide each other with nutrients!
There are a few different ways I have learned to listen to what nature is telling me. First off GBG has an aquaponics system. This is a tricky way to go about growing plants. There is TONS of chemistry involved. When I first began my internship, Jan, the founder of GBG, was showing me how the basil growing in the aquaponics system was showing her they were lacking nutrients. The leaves of the basil were not as deep of a green as they should be, they were very light, almost a yellow-green. Jan explained how plants react different ways when they are not getting the nutrients they need. She was, and is, constantly checking the ph and nitrate balances in her aquaponics system. She can tell the difference in the amount of food the fish are being fed by the amount of nitrates in the system. I try to follow along the best I can with the chemistry of plants and aquaponics. I am still learning! I have learned, however, that basil is one of the first plants to show nitrogen deficiency. It gives off that yellow green color in the lowest leaves. This is why Jan always leaves some basil in the aquaponics system. This is a great way to make sure her plants are getting the nutrients they need. Now the plants are doing quite well and the aquaponics system is in balance!
The plants we have put in the ground at Hannah and Friends were telling us a similar story about nitrogen deficiency but in a whole different ecosystem. The soil here is very sandy, and the water comes from a well and has high levels of iron. I found it ironic how we saw similar yellow-green coloring in the basil we planted in the raised beds. The green cabbages in the raised beds were having some issues as well. Wes, the caretaker of the Hannah and Friends grounds, wanted to experiment with upside down tomato plants, some of his plants were showing different deficiencies.
I am mentioning all of these deficiencies to touch on something that may be rare these days, community connections. Jan is an amazing, intelligent woman, but sometimes she sees things happening to plants she doesn’t understand. In these instances Jan will go to one of her community connections to ask for help. Jan has mentioned she has a set of stores she visits for her gardening and aquaponics needs. She knows the people who work there and those people are a wealth of information. She has mentioned many times going to her community connections with pictures or descriptions of the problem which can be solved when great minds work together!
The article, “The Common Life” by Scott Russell Sanders, is reminiscent of this idea of neighbors helping neighbors. Now, South Bend is very large, so Jan isn’t necessarily any of these folks neighbors, but the point is that we act as a community. How many people do you see daily or weekly, and don’t speak to? Do you get coffee from the same coffee shop every morning and never speak to the barista who probably knows your order by heart? Say you did speak to this barista every morning and one day you see she was at her car trying to change her flat tire. You were passing by on your way home from work, no immediate plans, would you be more likely to stop knowing that she has children she needs to pick up from school because you got to know her? Or say you never spoke to her besides normal ordering and paying, would you stop? This idea of desensitizing ourselves from the outside world is a huge problem in my generation, and current generations. Without her connections, Jan may have figured out her nitrate deficiencies too late and lost half of her plants. I could rant about this for hours, but I digress.
The idea of community and working together is apparent at Hannah and Friends and their involvement with GBG. Below I have some photos of a resident, Rachel, who loves to plant. She was one of the first residents to befriend me. Our friendship has grown and the photos below are from this morning. She helped me plant 18 sage plants, which she pretty much did on her own. We listened to my Disney Pandora station as we planted, sang and laughed together. I would have been planting alone if it wasn’t for the connection I made with Rachel. For her I am grateful. I had a blast!