Growing Power – Urban Sustainable Farming
Needless to say, whenever I read about someone using both vermicomposting and aquaponics as part of a larger integrated system, I get pretty excited!! Growing Power is an organization doing exactly that.
This non-profit organization, based in Milwaukee (with another location in Chicago), was founded in 1998 by Hope Finklestein – but the person most readily associated with Growing Power is Will Allen, a 6′ 7″ former pro-basketball player. After retiring from the American Basketball League and spending a number of years in the corporate world, Allen purchased (in the mid 90′s) a small piece of land zoned for agriculture within Milwaukee’s city limits – land that would eventually become the site for Growing Power.
Allen began growing crops on the land and started a non profit called Farm City Link. When Hope Finklestein toured the operation (shortly after founding Growing Power) and met Allen, the two quickly realized the similarity of their overall vision and decided to merge their efforts. Finkestein has since moved to Alaska, but remains very active in the organization.
Here is Growing Power’s Mission (as stated on the site):
Growing Power, Inc. is a non-profit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environment in which they live by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food. This mission is implemented by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.
This is EXACTLY the type of organization I would love to get involved with!
I found this interesting video about Growing Power on Youtube:
…and an interesting blurb from a Now Magazine article:
The power source for the business is the second greenhouse, which holds the composting operation. Every week it welcomes 8,000 pounds of mash from an organic brewery, a thousand pounds of coffee grounds from local restaurants and tons of fruit and veggies that arrived at local food banks too late to be eaten. The process of composting throws off enough heat to keep the greenhouses warm through Milwaukee’s freezing winters.
And the way the compost is managed at Growing Power turns it into a money-maker. Huge bins made from scrap lumber are breeding grounds for tens of thousands of worms that break down the food scraps and produce castings that make top-grade fertilizer and compost every eight weeks.
“I couldn’t farm without these worms,” says Allen, a gentle giant of 6 feet, 7 inches, who refers to the little critters he holds lovingly in his oversized hands as his livestock. One bin of vermi-(worm)compost sells for $36,000 when wrapped into 2-ounce compost tea bags called Milwaukee Black Gold and sold to gardeners or in bulk to high-end growers. “It would take a rancher 300 steers to equal the value of my worm livestock,” he says.
His other livestock dominate the fourth greenhouse, where a 4,400-gallon fishing hole is alive with 4,000 tilapia, a small fish that evolved in Africa and Asia to withstand shallow, still waterways. The tilapia take eight months to reach their final weight, about a pound and a half, and live off algae, water lettuce, duckweed (39 per cent protein) and worms, all grown in the complex. When the tilapia do their business, they provide another business opportunity in another greenhouse, where the water with fish manure is mixed with compost tea to fill hydroponic canals and trays that feed a wide range of herbs and greens, including watercress, cilantro, basil, eddo and baby bok choy.
Some 5,000 pots of herbs grow in the enriched water, ready to be sent weekly to local chefs who lease their pots of herbs for $50 a month. “I can teach any group how to do this in a five-hour workshop,” says Allen.
This is an amazing model for urban agriculture – one that should be adopted in every major city as far as I’m concerned! Not only would it provide an incredible amount of additional healthy food, but it would help city dwellers to maintain a connection with with the earth. I’m hopeful that through the inspirational work of Growing Power and other similar organizations this can eventually become a reality!
Great articles about Growing Power:
Ex-basketball star’s urban agro-project a new kind of entrepreurialism with kind profits
Growing Power-An Urban Agriculture and Education Center
Where There’s a Will: Growing Power
[tags]aquaponics, vermicomposting, vermiculture, composting, urban agriculture, sustainable agriculture growing power, chicago, milwaukee[/tags]