In 2007, where others saw an old industrial building, James Godsil and Josh Fraundorf envisioned an indoor urban wetland that used aquatic farming to raise fish and grow produce for local restaurants and grocery stores. A year later, the freshly rehabbed building south of downtown Milwaukee, became the home of Fraundorf and Godsil’s new operation, dubbed Sweet Water Organics.
Today, the former Pawling Harnischfeger building is an agricultural oasis – featuring more than 20,000 perch and tilapia fish in tanks topped by beds of lettuce and other crops. The cavernous site in an industrial neighborhood uses aquaponics and hydroponics to raise fish and vegetables in a mutually beneficial environment. Sweet Water’s abundant supply of farm-raised tilapia and perch co-exist with the growing of organic lettuce, spinach, peppers, tomatoes, basil, watercress and more.
When you have that many fish in one location, however, there becomes the sensitive matter of what to do with all that residual fish “output.” Much of the facility’s fish waste becomes a natural fertilizer for aquatic plant growth – and the plants act as a natural water filtration system.
The rest of the fish waste is made into organic compost fertilizer for local community gardens and other users. That’s where KIOTI Tractor comes in.
“We deal with a lot of waste output from the fish and it’s a big issue around here, especially since we’re in an urban setting,” said Matt Ray, the principal farmer for Sweet Water. “Everything we do is about recycling and turning waste into resources. So of course, we wanted to turn the fish output into compost and fertilizer.”
Ray had a little more than half acre outside the building to work with for making compost. Sweet Water will generally have multiple large piles of compost working at once. The “finished” piles range from 50 cubic yards up to 100 cubic yards. “Active” piles are worked in a TMR mixing machine and then sorted into smaller sections that range from about 25 to 50 cubic yards.
“We needed a tractor that could work on a small footprint to help me mix and turn the compost regularly and move it once it was mature,” Ray said.
Ray began researching tractors and was looking for several very specific criteria. Sweet Water would want a hard-working, low-maintenance machine that could operate in tight spaces and had a reputation for quality and durability. His research led him to the KIOTI Tractor brand. He then contacted Schrage Brothers, his local authorized KIOTI Tractor dealer in nearby Mt. Calvary, Wisconsin.
Mark Petrie, the sales manager for Schrage Brothers, told Ray that the KIOTI DK45SE HST with a KL401 loader was the right compact tractor for the job. “With the Internet, people have generally done all their research and pretty much know what they want before they come to our store. Our job is to help them make sure that a certain model will work on their property and for their needs and uses. We help them make the smart choice. I think with Sweet Water we certainly accomplished that.”
Ray agrees, “We’ve just finished 300 hours of operation with the tractor and the loader we got with it. They’ve been working out great for us and we’re so much more productive working the compost piles since we got them,” Ray said.
The KIOTI DK45SE HST has a 45-horsepower engine that is known for being exceptionally quiet and meeting or exceeding EPA and CARB regulations, which is important when working in an urban neighborhood. The tractor is designed for easy access and simple maintenance to the drive train, making it easy to maintain and thus extend the life and performance of the tractor. The 36-horsepower power takeoff (PTO) is among the highest in this size class, giving owners the ability to power front end loaders or backhoes, and implements like mowers or tillers.
The KIOTI KL401 Loader has a low profile design which maximizes visibility from the operator’s station, another important consideration when working within the bustling pace of a city setting. Ray appreciates that the loader can be quickly and easily attached and detached. The mid-mount frame is designed for easy accessibility. It has a maximum lift height of 107.8 inches and 105.5 inch clearance. The bucket capacity when heaped with compost is 15.88 cubic feet.
“The design and power of the KIOTI tractor and loader has been everything we could have asked for,” Ray said. “It has been a workhorse in the yard and has helped our composting efforts tremendously.”
Sweet Water’s sustainable aquaponics system was inspired by Will Allen’s (MacArthur Genius Award Winner and Founder of Growing Power) three-tiered, bio-intensive, simulated wetland. Sweetwater is on the ground floor in the rapidly growing aquaponics movement and has become an example of sustainable urban agriculture in Milwaukee. As such, the company has become an attraction to locals and tourists alike as a showcase for sustainable urban agriculture. The plant has regular tours and an on-site store for buying fish, produce, branded merchandise and items from partner operations selling organic beef, eggs and dairy products. Thousands of people tour the facility annually. To find out more about Sweet Water Organics, visit sweetwater-organic.com or call 414-489-0425. The plant is located at 2151 South Robinson Avenue, Milwaukee, WI.