Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Growing Power...Transforming Communities

As someone who grew up on a farm and who finds great joy in eating delicious, local food, I've been thrilled to see the recent surge of interest in Urban Farming.

One of the most interesting Urban Farms, I 've heard about is 3 acre farm in Milwaukee called Growing Power. I first heard about the farm when I stumbled across an article claiming the farm has produced 1 Million Pounds of Organic Food on 3 Acres. I was intrigued.

Will Allen grew up in Maryland and spent much of his time outside of school helping his father farm. While playing professional basketball in Belgium, he started a garden, so he and his teammates could have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. He spent a lot time talking to Belgian farmers and learned several different farming methods from them.

He eventually ended up in Milwaukee and discovered a site in the middle of the city which was zoned for agriculture. Three giant greenhouses sat on the site, once home to a flourishing floral industry.

He bought the land and began experimenting with aquaponics, a method of farming where fish are grown in water that is then filtered and cleaned by plants and continuously repumped through the system. Tilapia and Yellow Perch are raised in the Growing Power's aquaponics system designed by Allen for less than $5,000. Many similarly-sized commercial aquaponics systems cost close to $50,000.

Amazingly, Will Allen can feed 10,000 people on his 3 little acres without using pesticides for herbicides. All of the plants grown in the aquaponics system don't require fertilizer because of the nutrient rich "waste water" from the fish. There are numerous worm bins throughout the property which create incredibly fertile compost. The rest of the vegetables are grown in a soil mix made primarily with this compost. Over 150 varieties of crops are grown at Growing Power.

One idea that I think is particularly brilliant is using compost to heat the Hoop Houses during the Winter. Most of Growing Power's Greenhouses and Hoop Houses have aquaponic systems in them that need to be heated. But, a few have only Winter crops growing in them. These Hoop Houses are surrounded by compost piles on the outside as well as large piles inside on both ends. The steam from the active piles heat the inside of the Hoop Houses, even when there is several feet of snow on the ground.

The farm has provided needed jobs for the area and most importantly has helped feed residents in the food desert of Milwaukee's Inner City. Visitors to Growing Power's Main Headquarters and Training Center will find also find bees, chickens, ducks and goats on the farm. There are now 5 different Growing Power locations in Chicago and two more in Milwaukee.

Allen's successful model of farming in being replicated across the country, including ECO City Farm (in PG County right outside of D.C.). At Growing Power's Training Center, they offer a Commercial Urban Agriculture Program which is a series of 5, 3-day weekend seminars taught from January through May.

Growing Power always offers an on-going intensive program for those interested in learning how to farm using sustainable methods. Over 6 weeks, participants work 6 days a week at Growing Power's Headquarters. All very exciting stuff!

This video gives you a chance to peek inside Growing Power's inspirational walls. Enjoy!

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