Thursday, April 29, 2010

Growing Power

April has been a full, rewarding month, with our gorgeous Spring figuring into almost everything.
Earlier in the month, I traveled to Wisconsin to help celebrate my mother, Ruth's 85th birthday. My mom is a remarkable woman, and every visit we have together is a lucky one for me! As part of our family gathering for her birthday, my mom was keen on us visiting an urban farm in Milwaukee called Growing Power. She and my dad had heard the farm's founder, Will Allen (above), speak about Growing Power at Carroll University (my alma mater, where my dad is professor emeritus), and they were impressed with his project and his enthusiasm. His mantra is, "It's all about the soil!" My folks both have green thumbs and my dad grew up on a dairy farm in Michigan, so the concept of soil as where it all begins is something he knows firsthand. My Mom also wanted to reinvigorate their compost pile with some of the fabulous red wiggler worms that Growing Power cultivates.

So, one afternoon, off we went, to take Growing Power's daily public tour.
It was fascinating, in a very grassroots kind of way. They have experimented with not only producing excellent potting soil by intensive composting of food waste from local businesses (like brewery hops and restaurant leavings), but raising fish in homemade tanks filled with water that circulates through gravel beds of watercress plants that cleanse the water and provide extra salad greens for harvesting. The farm is comprised of a number of hoop houses (again, homemade by bending pipe and stretching plastic over them), which are insulated on the outside by mounds of compost. Even through the coldest times of winter, the composting action heats the greenhouses enough to keep the many trays of salad greens inside at a good growing temperature. In the mounds of compost live the worms, which create the nutritious soil and are also harvested and sold in buckets of earth to gardeners like my folks!
Will Allen's expertise has been sought worldwide, and on the wall of the farm stand, we saw a photo of Allen recently taken with Michelle Obama. Allen won a MacArthur Foundation Genious Grant in 2008 and hopes to transform the Milwaukee farm into a several-story verticle greenhouse.
I liked the ingeniousness of the farm's use of found materials and the ways it recycles at the most basic levels. There seemed to be little waste and much production, as well as good earning power. They also are very focused on education, especially among local youth, whom we saw working at every aspect of the farm.
Here is a very good feature story about Growing Power in last month's Milwaukee Magazine. (The photo above by Carl Corey accompanies the story. Check it out!)
We left the farm happy, with my mom's birthday present in tow: a bucket of red wigglers that now reside happily in her backyard compost pile. Spring!