Will Allen at Growing Power has been getting more and more press lately for the work he’s been doing in Milwaukee and Chicago, so it seems timely to share some photos and thoughts from my visit to his farm. Basically, Growing Power is an enterprise that hires local youth (and others) to grow food in the city, bringing fresh, local, organic food to places that need it the most. The organization has been able to do this (and about a billion other things) so well that it’s become something of a gold standard among urban farmers and activists. Here’s how Will Allen puts it:
We share everything we learn, pass it on, and hope they’ll pass it on to others. That’s how change happens, and a revolution comes about. I’m calling it that now, the Good Food revolution, because that’s exactly what it is. (source)
It would be exhausting to describe everything that happens at the one-acre farm, so I’ll just choose a few highlights. Since I’m a garden geek, I’m just gonna focus on the technical stuff, because it doesn’t always get the most press and, honestly, it’s pretty darn cool.
First is the farm’s intensive use of red wiggler worms to produce nutrient-rich compost for the greenhouse and outdoor gardens. These little worms live in numbered bins inside the greenhouse (above) as well as in huge piles that line the outside of the buildings. They eat food scraps that are gathered from around the city in massive quantities (I think this involves full size trucks making deliveries once a week or so). As the worms and natural microbes break down the food scraps, heat is generated, enough even to keep the worms alive and chowing down all through the cold, Wisconsin winter.
Second is the farm’s highly integrated aquaculture system, raising fish and plants in conjunction. (The fish “fertilize” their tank water, which is pumped past filters and growing greens, then back to the tanks.)
Then there are the other farm animals (goats! ducks! turkeys!), not to mention the outdoor hoop houses, the biogas digester, and the electric compost sifter (photos below). Then of course there is all the programmatic stuff that Growing Power does: the farm stand, the apprenticeship program, youth training, workshops, and advocacy .
Frankly, when I met Mr. Allen at the farm, at the end of a long summer day, he seemed a little bit exhausted, and I couldn’t blame him. He wears about a gazillion hats and has the relentless passion of an activist, teacher, inventor, farmer and spokesperson, all rolled into one. I get tired just thinking about it. The result of all this work and care, though, is a beautiful thing. In short, Growing Power and Will Allen deserve the hype. They are totally awesome.
Now for some more photos! Here’s that sweet compost sifter, made from an old dryer:
Using sifted compost to prepare seedling flats:
An old barn sits on the site, a relic of Milwaukee’s agrarian past.
Everywhere you see pots of micro-greens, growing in vermicompost. It’s the farm’s main cash crop.
Here are some of the delivery trucks (for compost scraps?) These guys are not messing around!
Barnyard animals galore:
A hoop house (plastic roof removed for the summer) has been massively loaded with vermicompost. We’re talking two feet of compost here, people! Wowza!
All of this on a single acre!