Last week, several Norris and Sodexo staff had the opportunity to visit local food producers in Wisconsin. On behalf of Wild Roots, I was fortunate enough to partake in this field trip to learn about the diverse ways in which individuals are contributing to the local food movement.
Our first stop was Sweetwater Organics (www.sweetwater-organic.com), an urban aquaponics facility in Milwaukee. Sweetwater Organics revamped an abandoned factory building to create an awesome fish and vegetable garden, in which perch, tilapia, and plenty of greens (primarily lettuce) are grown. Essentially, the system is a combination of aquaculture and hydroponics: the fish release ammonia, which is converted to nitrogen by microbes. The nitrogen is then used by the lettuce, and the lettuce plants purify the water for the fish. After plenty of experimentation, Sweetwater Organics has discovered optimum conditions for production, such that the seed-to-harvest cycle for lettuce has been reduced from 65 days to 45, and that the fish are ready to harvest after ten months. In addition to the aquaculture system, Sweetwater Organics grows vegetables including tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and basil in greenhouses outside.
We then visited Pinehold Gardens, a 21-acre farm near Milwaukee (www.pineholdgardens.com). Sandy and David, the owners of the farm, work year-round to manage the farm and run a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture.) Each week from July to October, Pinehold Gardens provides a variety of the freshest and highest-quality produce for its customers; during our visit, such crops included garlic, fennel, squash, and beans. In addition, Pinehold Gardens offers worker shares in which members commit four hours a week to helping out with manual labor in exchange for a CSA share. In rain or shine, Sandy and David are hard at work to ensure that local produce is available in surrounding communities.
In the afternoon, we visited Brightonwoods Orchard (www.brightonwoodsorchard.com) and AeppelTreow Winery (www.aeppeltreow.com), which are situated next to each other in Burlington. Brightonwoods Orchard grows more than 200 types of apples, 30 types of pears, and cherries on 15 acres of land and produces multiple kinds of apple and pear wines. It is very challenging to grow apples in Wisconsin, particularly due to the climate; yet, this orchard produces enough fruit to yield 20,000 to 25,000 gallons of cider annually. AeppelTreow (which is an Old English name that can be read as “Apple Tree” or “Apple True”) specializes in numerous ciders, table wines, champagnes, mistelles, and brandy. The entire production process occurs on-site and is therefore as local as possible.
Our final stop was the farm of Norris’s very own Mr. Rick Thomas. Mr. Thomas grows a multitude of crops, including eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, berries, and onions. One technique he uses to ward off pesky creatures is companion planting. Until a few years ago, raccoons were continuously destroying the corn plants before they could be harvested. Upon experimenting with a new technique, in which squash are planted in between corn plants, Mr. Thomas discovered that the raccoons were no longer attacking the corn! It turns out that the raccoons don’t like the prickly squash stalks–and weren’t willing to trample through them to go after the corn. Hooray! Perhaps Wild Roots can adopt similar strategies in order to combat our very own enemy critters, the bunnies.
The field trip to Wisconsin was a fantastic and inspirational experience for all who attended. It was amazing to see the creative ways in which people are actively participating in the local food movement.
More updates to come on cool happenings in our garden!