“A Place at the Table of Life” – How Jan Pilarski Describes Green Bridge Growers


Sometimes when I listen to The Splendid Table (which I do regularly) I am overwhelmed by the gustatory sophistication, the plethora of herbs and spices of which callers speak knowingly, the time and energy serious cooks spend on their art. Though mortified by my pedestrian palate, I listen with envy and admiration.

Last week I set aside my inhibitions and turned up the volume as Lynne Rossetto Kasper and her worthy crew held me spellbound with the riveting story of Green Bridge Growers (http://www.greenbridgegrowers.org, a vibrant Indiana farming initiative that mixes fresh produce and aquaponics with social justice and meaningful work for adults with autism.  (http://www.splendidtable.org/story/green-bridge-growers-growing-organic-produce-employing-young-adults-with-autism) The cross pollinization took root in my imagination.  I needed to know more about the founders, Chris Tidmarsh and his mother, Jan Pilarski.

At its core the mission of Green Bridge Growers is to leverage new jobs for those with autism by employing aquaponics to grow vegetables close to consumers, year-round, and at a profit.  Though palate-impaired I recognize a recipe for a win-win enterprise.

The robust Green Bridge Growers website (fed my interest in the produce and the purpose of this dynamic operation.  In terms of growing practices, the venture uses organic growing methods and materials, including aquaponics, to operate year round at the farm near South Bend, Indiana.  “Within this system, fish and plants grow in harmony, producing faster growing rates and much less waste.”

In financial terms, the customer base for GBG includes “high-end restaurants and grocery stores” and farmers’ markers, with talks underway to establish a relationship with Notre Dame University Food Services.

From the perspective of social mission, the role of GBG is described thus by co-owner Jan Pilarski, mother of Chris Tidmarsh:  “to create jobs that harness the amazing skills of young adults with autism.  We grow local, organic vegetables for our community, and those who buy from us help to create jobs and change lives.”

As is often the case, it was personal experience that sparked the idea that has become a prosperous and socially conscious business.  Jan Pilarski tells the story of  her son Chris, a high functioning autistic college graduate who couldn’t deal with the social challenges of a traditional job.  When he returned home, jobless, his mother recalls that “it was food that slowly brought us back to life.”  Chris had a passion for fresh, healthy, local food.  The family looked around to learn, among other things,  how other sustainable ventures had taught practical farming skills to inner city youth, to veterans, and to others marginalized in the work economy, to people who excel at the essential routines successful farming demands.

GBG is story of creative and socially responsible thinking.    Today sustainable locavore is hot, farm-to-market is the rage, sustainable agriculture ventures are establishing deep roots and reaping results throughout Minnesota and the Twin Cities.  What this story adds is the social goal of engaging a fresh and eager crop of growers in the process of sharing the labor and reaping the rewards.  It takes work, patience, holistic thinking and a social commitment.   The harvest is rich is countless ways.

As for GBG, they’re growing as fast as their crops.  There was a great article about the project in The Atlantic a few months ago.  (http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/an-organic-greenhouse-run-by-farmers-with-autism/282145/gbg).  Chris and Jan star in an informative video they produced as part of a successful crowd-sourced campaign that will allow them to expand their equipment, their market and their employee base.

Needless to say, GBG excels at tweeting the latest news, freshest produce and wisest quotes – The quote from Friday, May 30, is from Mark Twain who wrote:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.  The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and starting the first one.”  No surprise that Chris Tidmarsh and Jan Pilarski have declared this the mantra of Green Bridge Growers.

Contact information for GBG:  Innovation Park Notre Dame, 1400 East Angela Blvd, South Bend, IN 46617 574 310 8190, greenbridgegrowers@gmail.com




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