Thank goodness for the 4 weeks of Brown’s winter break, I was able to spend 5 days in January on a road trip through 5 states in the Midwest. My destination and reason for the journey was Growing Power, a non profit urban farm in Milwaukee. They are known for their aquaponics and for producing large amounts of compost, calling it the heart of their farm system.
Will Allen, Founder and CEO of Growing Power, Inc. (photo NYTimes)
Growing Power brings in 80,000 pounds of food waste per week to break down anaerobically in large piles. Once it is broken down slightly, some of it is fed to their millions of worms. These worm castings (poop) produce a highly concentrated nutrient source. Worm castings are mixed with coconut fiber to grow sprouts. They sell compost and worm casting, worm castings for $4 per pound. They divert $6 million of food waste from landfills and create a high value product with all the waste!
My goal for the two day workshop was to learn as much as I could about GP’s aquaponics systems. Unfortunately, there is also a 3-day aquaponics workshop for $500. (The two day workshop is $375) The two day workshop was not allowed to go to the aquaponics breakout sessions, so I plan on reverse engineering them from the 300 pictures I took. (Since video recording wasn’t allowed inside the facilities)
Growing Power produces an incredible amount of sprouts at their urban farm site (they have 200 acres in rural areas as well) The turnover of sprouts is around 1 week, they were growing pea sprouts, sunflower sprouts, and wheat grass in January. They don’t need sunlight until day 4, so they can be stacked in trays, producing a tremendous value per square foot of growing space.
Watercress in the aquaponics grow bed
Growing Power has also started to tinker with methods for growing mushrooms in their greenhouses. The most incredible thing is they added thousands of dollars of new revenue from mushrooms without requiring any new space. They realized the top of their hoophouses were not being used, so they hang their ‘mushroom chandeliers” 15 feet in the air.
These delicious oyster mushrooms take 5 weeks to grow
My biggest takeaways from the trip to Growing Power was the emphasis put on building soil. In The Good Food Revolution, Will Allen’s autobiography, he says “As I travel around the country to look at new urban agriculture project, I can predict a group’s future success by how much attention has been paid to creating fertile soil.”
The journey to Milwaukee was a great road trip. I ended up putting in 1200 miles, had my brakes go out in a snowstorm, and got to visit in Chicago, Ann Arbor, and Detroit with great friends.
My time in Detroit included visiting Eastern Market, large farmer’s market but also increasingly growing as a hub for food entrepreneurs. A large scale commercial kitchen is currently being installed that will be rented by the hour. There is also plans for an aquaponics business to be opened in an abandoned warehouse near the market.
I also met a reporter from the Detroit Free Press, John Gallagher, who discussed the opportunities for urban agriculture in shrunken cities like Detroit and Youngstown. I just started reading a copy of his book and was very excited to see how much he writes about Youngstown. I’ll write a post on the book when I finish it soon.