Green Bridge Growers is a local sustainable agriculture farm that was founded in 2012. Green Bridge Growers is an urban aquaponics farm and social enterprise that was designed to create jobs throughout the South Bend Community for gifted young adults with autism. Since 2012 Green Bridge Growers has been awarded a number of grants and prizes including the University of Notre Dame’s coveted McCloskey Business Plan Competition Klau Family Prize. Green Bridge Growers has had a relationship with ESTEEM since its inception because a number of its McCloskey Business Plan Competition team members were ESTEEM students.
After operating a successful pilot at a special needs home – Hannah & Friends – Green Bridge Growers has expanded to a larger farm area and is in the process of setting up two new tunnel greenhouses. Janaeé Wallace, a current ESTEEM student has been aiding in this expansion process. Janaeé has a background in Biology and Chemistry with a special interest in Environmental Science & Policy, Marine Science, and 3 years of fish biology experience. Janaeé is currently working on a founder’s project where she hopes to innovate on current aquaponic systems to develop a marine aquaponic system that grows saltwater fish and freshwater produce in the same system. She has been working with Janice Pilarski, the co-founder and CEO of Green Bridge Growers, the past 10 months to help Green Bridge Growers to plan and execute the growth into the larger greenhouse spaces.
Janaeé has also been key in this growth by serving as a research consultant whilst aiding in overall business development, marketing materials, grant writing, and system design. The Green Bridge Growers team has also been essential to the development of Janaeé’s business plan submission to this year’s McCloskey Business Plan Competition at the University of Notre Dame, and to the OWN Bahamas Business Competition –a Bahamian business plan competition-. This business plan was a launch strategy for Janaeé’s thesis and founder’s idea that aims to launch an aquaponic venture similar to Green Bridge Growers, in the Bahamas.
Since its inception Green Bridge Growers has:
- Built and operated a successful greenhouse while employing 3 gifted, autistic employees
- Trained over 20 students and autistic individuals on innovative farming methods
- Expanded to a new 3 acre sire with 4,000 square feet of year-round greenhouse space
- Developed training programs to employ at least 5 autistic young adults
Janice Pilarski has said that ESTEEM students have played a pivotal role in the development and growth of her business. As a Notre Dame alumna, she is proud to still have a connection to the university and especially enjoys working with ESTEEM students because of their diverse skill sets. She finds that the combination of applicable scientific knowledge combined with business acumen is what makes the ESTEEM student so different, and so desirable to work with.
"ESTEEM consistently recruits and turns out graduates who are extremely focused, resourceful, and creative. I'm very impressed by the innovative approaches taken by these students and their commitment to excel both in the classroom and at their industry placements. ESTEEM students arrive at Notre Dame with outstanding backgrounds, ready to learn and contribute." In particular, "Janaee's academic interests in fish biology and aquaponics are a perfect fit for our venture. From the start of her work with Green Bridge Growers, she was committed to excellence in research and design that reflected a deep knowledge of aquaponics. Janaee is exceptional and brought value to so many aspects of our work."
As the year wraps up, Janice and Janaeé hope to continue to work together as the new green house spaces are finalized and Janaeé’s business proposal is critiqued. Because of companies like Green Bridge Growers, students like Janaeé can receive excellent business mentorship in their specific fields of interest whilst developing their founders’ ideas.