Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Power Growing

Last weekend was so inspiring!  I got to attend a weekend workshop at Growing Power  in Milwaukee, WI, an urban farm developed by this remarkable farmer, Will Allen. About 18 years ago, Will purchased an old nursery for sale in the inner city of Milwaukee with the intent of selling produce from his farm there.

Since then, he has transformed this 2- acre lot into an intense and diverse farm, training and employing over a hundred people at a fair wage and growing healthy, delicious organic food for thousands of Milwaukee-ites.
Growing greens and microgreens year-round is one of the key enterprises of Growing Power. They sell weekly market baskets of vegetables to community members and wholesale produce to places like Walmart and Whole Foods.
They get tons of wood chips and semi truckloads of vegetable trimmings and waste from city businesses that they turn into compost. (This is not their only compost site.)  This  huge compost pile was steaming hot on a February day because they had just turned in the goat manure...
from their herd of about a dozen goats that lives on the urban farm. They were expecting also 500 new laying hens later in the week. Their hens are housed in deep bedding in two of the hoop houses and provide  eggs for sale.
In one corner of the farm is the bee yard where they have 14 beehives, mostly Langstroth hives, a couple of top-bar hives and this intriguing tall hive called a Hapiary, designed to mimic a hollow tree, to make the bees happy.
Aquaponics systems combing fish and plants in a symbiotic growing relationship are located inside many of the greenhouses.  For a typical system, a  4-foot deep, long rectangular fish tank (holding up to 10,000 gallons) is constructed with a plant-growing platform above. The pond water is pumped up into the growing beds where microorganisms convert the fish waste to nutrients for the plants, filtering the water for the fish. Watercress, nasturtiums,  and many varieties of greens were currently growing in most of the beds. The logs hanging above this tank are growing shitake mushrooms and are occasionally immersed in the water.
A net scooped full of tilapia from this tank. Tilapia and pacu are tropical fish requiring water that is at least 60 degrees F. The warm water tanks are heated by a solar thermal system on the roof, and the tanks act as heat sinks that help keep the greenhouses warm.
The pacu, a  fish that is a vegetarian relative of the piranha and is absolutely delicious, according to Will. These two pacu were about 20 pounds but they can grow up to 60 pounds!
Close up and personal view of the pacu.  (I am not sure I could eat this smiley fish after I raised it to 20 pounds.)
At Growing Power they also raise lake perch and bluegills in tanks with colder water.

Of all the livestock raised on the farm, worms are the most important, providing the fertility for the soil.
Will showed us the Worm Depository, sort of a worm nursery where they raise large populations of worms.  They control the temperature of this huge vermicompost pile through careful addition of new materials, brown and green, so that the red worms survive Wisconsin winters.
Inside one of the greenhouses are many large wooden worm bins where worms process the compost into castings (worm poop), nature's most perfect slow-release fertilizer.  There are over 15,000 pots throughout the greenhouses, where plants thrive grown in pure compost topped with a sprinkle of worm castings. Worms are added to every pot.  With just a bit of worm castings added occasionally, the same pots of compost have been used continuously for ten years.
The hanging bags are "mushroom  chandeliers," growing oyster mushrooms.  Notice all the hanging pots also. Every potential growing space is used, up to the rafters.
A view into a high tunnel growing spinach.  Growing Power has launched community gardens all over Milwaukee and in Chicago. They often erect a high tunnel right on top of an asphalt surface, spread compost two feet deep and plant into the compost. This way they enjoy totally weed-free gardening.
Compost banked against the outside walls of the  high tunnels helps retain heat inside. I love the fleet of wheelbarrows.

It's a pretty astonishing  agricultural system on just two acres! And I didn't even show you the solar panels sheltering the outdoor produce market, the new classroom, the delicious meals, the hens in the hoophouses, the anaerobic digester, the water catchment system in which the bluegills are raised, or the aquaponics research area...

I attended two great workshops, aquaponics and composting, where I gleaned a lot that I will apply to  our farm. I would love to return someday, for the technical expertise...and for the inspiration.


gz said...

Fantastic and inspiring!!

Jocelyn said...

What a valuable trip you took! I would have sucked that information up like a sponge. Using small space to produce a large amount of food is amazing to me. I could look at your post all day. Show us more! Please???

Fiona said...

I've read about this urban farm and farmer before, but never in such depth! Thanks for sharing this amazing place. It's truly inspiring -- and intriguing, especially the Hapiary. The urban hoophouse is fantastic -- imagine weed-free growing! And yes, the wheelbarrows made me smile.

Sandra Sarlinga said...

Thank you for sharing, this is so inspiring!

katiegirl said...

Wow, that's amazing!!

psquared said...

I am so grateful for your recap of your visit to Growing Power, it reminds me of my trip there a two years ago. I am now starting up my own microgreens operation and I am having trouble tracking down my notes from the microgreens breakout session that I attended while there. I was wondering if you happened to have any sort of notes, or know anyone who had taken good notes or recordings during this session. If so, please email me at christopherchemsak@gmail.com.. it would be sooo much appreciated!

psquared said...

Hey! Thank you so much for your post recapping your visit to Growing Power. My husband went there a year ago and is having trouble locating his notes from the microgreens breakout session. This year we are starting our own microgreens operation and he was really wanting to draw upon Will Allen's growing medium recipes, watering and covering techniques for inspiration. Do you or anyone you know happen to have notes about their methods?! If so, I would be so grateful for some sort of copy or recording. Maybe there is something we could trade! Please contact me at paigeeparis@gmail.com