Sweet Water Organics

I met James Godsil at Sweet Water Organics while I was up in Milwaukee last week.

Sweet Water Organics is an ambitious effort to utilize an old warehouse property to create something similar to Growing Power’s urban community building food production system.

Biggest challenge I see for Sweet Water Organics is light. It takes a lot of light to grow plants and providing that light inside an old warehouse is not inexpensive. They do realize this and have started building greenhouses but those may not be of much use to them during the cold months as they happen to be in the building’s shadow.

Sweet Water Organics is a good opportunity for anyone in the area to volunteer and learn about aquaponics as well as perhaps try out some ideas to help discover the next generation of food production for the urban setting.

The fish tanks are huge. This is unfortunate as they didn’t build their plant beds as big as the fish tank and they were roughly basing their design on Growing Power which already has barely the minimum amount of filtration (actually far below the minimum amount of filtration in my book.) So with way huge fish tanks and undersized growing space to start out, they are already going to be fighting to balance the systems. Then the minimal amount of light inside a big old warehouse even with windows up high is going to be a problem.

It is sad to say they have already experienced problems of water quality and had a big fish kill. They now have people working to improve their bio-filtration but they need far more plant space to take up the nutrients even if their tanks go only lightly stocked.

If there are any plant lighting specialists up in the area who could help them out, Please contact them.
Sweet Water Organics

14 comments to Sweet Water Organics

  • JD Sawyer

    Good article and I agree with your concerns. I really like Sweetwater and Godsil. His vision and the collective mission of SW is terrific. However, the systems are out of balance. I caution those that are looking to replicate this model on a commercial level particulary indoors. I’m seeing more and more people venturing into commercial ap with this design and they need to be warned of the pitfalls. When are you coming to Denver? Would love to meet you in person.


    • I’ll be the first to admit that our original indoor systems at Sweet Water are out of balance. What we’ve been dealing with to this point are beast-sized versions of Growing Power’s design, which were in play before I came on board.
      It was a place to start; however, I can say with confidence that nothing we are planning for the future is locked into those 3-tier fish tank and plant bed systems.
      It’s important to keep in mind that although Sweet Water has existed for 2 years, the majority of the staff involved in designing/building the processes and advancements in this facility have only been here for between 6 and 14 months. Although we’ve made great headway in that time, there hasn’t been a lot of time to fix every issue.
      During the winter months, a big focus of mine has been on installing solids removal & collection tanks on each of our 10,000 gallon indoor systems (the effluent sludge will be collected and incorporated into our composting program).
      Once satisfied with the resulting turbidity, I’ll be adding media filters for proliferating nitrifying bacteria as the final stage.
      Spring is coming fast, and I’ve been waiting from my first day here to get growing under natural sunlight. Seven greenhouses (constructed last summer) are currently waiting to be plumbed and powered for planting. Since these outdoor systems are being designed with correct component ratios in mind from the start, we look forward to much better water chemistry and corresponding larger, faster harvests.

      • TCLynx

        Hi Jesse,
        Thank you so much for commenting.
        I hope to hear more about your improvements you have been working on. I think the endeavor is a great one though it sounds like it started with more good intentions than planning but hopefully it will all grow into itself.

        I’m curious, the outdoor greenhouses, will they be working as nutrient removal for the indoor tanks at least in the warmer season?

        • RE: “…the outdoor greenhouses, will they be working as nutrient removal for the indoor tanks at least in the warmer season?”

          That’s one of the things we’ve been discussing, yes. The issue is in making up for the volume of fish tank water that will occupy the pipes and gardens as we pump it back and forth. Although the volume of water will stay the same, we will have to incorporate some sort of buffer reservoir to keep the water line in the fish tank from getting too low and crowding the fish into a smaller space.

          • TCLynx

            I have some ideas that might help you out with such things as water level fluctuations
            Indexing valves might be of use to you for this.

            Also, let me know if you would like me to set you up with a user name here so you don’t need to enter your e-mail each time you comment.

  • TCLynx

    Ah thank you JD, really good to get an on topic comment too! Don’t know when I might make it to Colorado (my other half would love to go snow boarding this winter) but I know there are many new people into Aquaponics popping up in your state. I always push hard when I see people describing aquaponics as just plants and fish, I really try to get them to give equal time to the filtration (I’ve run aquaponics for a while fishless or without plants but it won’t run well at all minus the filtration.)

  • Yo Alece, JD, and our emerging community of aquaponics practice!

    Happy New Year!

    You and yours are providing a great service with your work and developing places like this for we apprentice aquaponics practitioners to share our discoveries. For me the Sweet Water and Growing Power aquaponics experiments are in the early research and development phase, with Growing Power tilting toward inspiration and motivation, Sweet Water tilting toward science and engineering. The commercial proof of concept in the short run will possibly happen with the large chapel greenhouses which are well away from the building and will get maximum sunshine. The greenhouses closer to the building are not for plants but for fish. We hope to successfully grow plants in vertigrow type towers with 7 pots of 4 plants each. Key challenge in my mind will be insulating the pipes carrying the fish water to the greenhouses. I would love to learn of problems you may have heard about regarding the vertigrow systems. It will be interesting to discover how much heat will be required for these greenhouse systems in Wisconsin winter. Some engineers have shown up at Sweet Water for questions like this, but also to explore establishing rooftop greenhouses that would provide the plant space, the insufficient quantity you correctly express concern about.

    Aquaponics in giant old factory buildings is as much a science lab, classroom, eco-tourist destination, locus for hope and inspiration, and a place to bring together the many kinds of skill sets to advance the democratization of aquaponics through miniaturization. The democratization of aquaponics, interestingly, may be the strictly commercial proof of concept for aquaponics in big old factories. They will serve both as the “showroom” for the smaller systems, but also the place for design and fabrication.

    Sweet Water is a triple bottom line, multiple income streamed, social business experiment.


    In the same way that the civic minded have supported museums and inspiring homes of worship for faith communities, I intuit the energies available in each and every major Great Lakes Heartland and seaboard industrial city to find at least one Sweet Water to bring together our good food (r)Evolution, improve each “generation” of large system experiments, and, perhaps, most importantly, refine and accelerate the miniaturization experiments. Every school deserves an aquapaponics miniature. Sweet Water gathering places should be designed to inspire and support aquaponics experiments at faith communities, elder care homes, some pubs and restaurants, hopefully every square city block. What more earth friendly way is there to provide tasty protein sources and fresh greens for the people, but, more importantly BY we people!

    Every city deserves Sweet Water!

    Grateful for your outstanding services,


  • TCLynx

    Godsil, Oh thank you so much for stopping by. Good to hear that the shaded greenhouses won’t be struggling to grow sun loving plants. There may still be some plants that would grow in them that would be useful. Duckweed does not need full direct sun and it is a wonderful ammonia sink which is also pretty good tilapia food.

    I’m so excited by all the new aquaponics popping up around the world.

  • Yo TC Lynx,

    Is there an on-line book re aquaponics you would recommend?

    What do you think is the single best source of start-up information available on line today?

    Do you think aquaponics is the most efficient, earth friendly growing methodology available to the human race at this point in time?


    • TCLynx

      No I do not know of any e-books I would really recommend about aquaponics (many of them are just information taken from sources already available for free but they are being compiled and sold by people not giving credit to those who actually did the research and writing.)
      There are many good books and videos available though and they can be ordered online. Backyard Aquaponics has good books and videos. Murray Hallam’s Practical Aquaponics is also a good source. Of course these are geared for backyard scale.

      Best single source for start up information I think is the BYAP forum but it is geared to Backyard home food production and not necessarily appropriate to commercial operations. I can list several other web sites and forums that are good and some will be more suited for a particular location but BYAP has been active the longest.

      For learning about commercial operations there are a few sources but I would generally recommend some one go to a workshop to learn in detail how to do it. Friendly Aquaponics, Nelson and Pade, and the University of the Virgin Islands are the options for commercial raft style aquaponics that I know of. Morning Star Fishermen also teaches workshops here in Florida on raft style aquaponics but they are geared a little more to missionary applications rather than domestic businesses.

      There are publications available from UVI but attending a class might help to make them more understandable to those not already versed in aquaculture and hydroponics.

    • TCLynx

      oh that last bit,

      “is aquaponics the most efficient, earth friendly growing methodology available?”

      I don’t think any single method of anything is best. I think diversity if far more important than any single method. In addition to my aquaponics I have soil gardens and wicking beds. I am also trying to create a bit of a food forest on my 1/3rd acre lot. I think food not lawns is important and even people in the city can be growing food in a window box. If everyone grows a little bit, then the slack is far easier to take up with the larger commercial ventures and there will be far more to go around.

  • The “big kill” you mentioned was 2,500 perch in Fall 2009, stemming from mechanical feeders malfunctioning 3 times, our water chemistry measuring not picking up dramatic spikes, and the immaturity of our bio-filtering, stemming from inadequate lighting for a factory context and insufficient plant bed size. That 2,500 our of the 75,000 fish we’ve been raising is small by comparison with most start-up efforts, I’m told. To me, it was horrible, whatever the standard “kill” ratio turns out to be. Some government aquaculture advisers say you don’t know much about fish farming until you’ve killed 50,000 fish. Let us pray we can improve upon that in the 21st century!

  • TCLynx

    Thank you for the info on the “big kill”

    I too hope we can get the info out there to help future ventures from needing to suffer such things in order to say they know something.

    Automatic feeders do need careful monitoring and I know I struggled finding ones appropriate to my systems. Most incidents I have suffered since then have been my own operator error and not actually the fault of the equipment, sigh, luckily my system is designed with a huge amount of filtration (I have twice as much gravel volume as I have fish tank volume) and I think I’ve only lost about 8 fish due to water quality issues from over feeding.

  • TCLynx

    I Find Myself wanting to do a “Where are they now” post.
    I just heard from Godsl today which got me thinking to try searching for some of the old friends and thinking about some of the Aquaponic Operations from around 2007-2014. I got into Aquaponics back in the end of 2007, started my online business in 2010, and was farming(selling some produce from my systems 2011) and actually moved to a FARM in 2012 and left my old line of work in 2014. My Farm and Business are still going in 2021 but there have been so many operations that I can’t find mention of anymore and I wonder what became of them.

    There are so many different reasons an operation my not be able to continue. Loss of the property on which it existed, loss of the key person of the operation, loss of funding, or just inability to produce enough profit to keep it afloat, and likely so many more reasons exist.

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