Sunday, August 29, 2010

A pleasant surprise in Milwaukee

When we left the television station last Thursday, my husband decided to take a different route back to the hotel. So, we were driving along in unfamiliar territory when he asked if that was a farmer's market up ahead. I looked intently and suddenly gasped and squealed, "That's Growing Power!" I didn't need to say more. He hit the brakes and took the next right turn, drove around the block and pulled up in front of the urban garden that has now become legendary. We went inside to get information and learned that there is a tour every day at one o'clock, so after calling home to make sure we weren't needed, we decided to do the tour after grabbing lunch.

Deborah meets Will Allen
Our tour was conducted by Amanda, who started at Growing Power in April as an intern and has since moved over to employee status. She took eleven of us through their greenhouses and showed us their livestock. The knowledge of people on the tour varied from one end of the spectrum to the other. One woman asked about the ingredients of the fish pellets that are fed to the tilapia. (I bet she reads Michael Pollan. He's recently started talking about how farm-raised fish are fed corn.) On the other hand, one couple didn't realize that the baby lettuces grow up to be something like romaine. At first I found it sad that they didn't know they were looking at romaine lettuce, but then I realized it is really exciting that Growing Power is educating people about their food, in addition to feeding people with their locally-grown produce.

When we were in the second greenhouse, a very tall man walked in, and poor Amanda lost everyone's attention as a chorus of gasps and greetings filled the air, and we all started shaking hands with the man -- Will Allen, the former pro basketball player who everyone thought was a little weird seventeen years ago when he bought two-and-a-half acres of land in the middle of Milwaukee to start a farm. But people don't think he's crazy now.

Tilapia grow in fish tanks
under the vegetables.

It was a lot of fun to see what could be done in such a small space. They have more than a dozen greenhouses where they grow their vegetables, plus there are bee hives, tilapia, perch, goats, chickens, and mushrooms. Mike and I were looking closely at how the fish live in ponds under the grow beds. The water is pulled up from the fish tanks by a simple sump pump and dumped into the grow beds. At the other end of the bed is a drain, and the water is dumped back into the fish tank. The plants filter the water for the fish, and the fish feed the plants with their waste. It's a great relationship. (Add another thing to the "to do" list on Antiquity Oaks: create aquaponic system to grow tilapia and fresh greens year round.)

Oyster mushrooms grow
in one of the greenhouses.
It was also fun to see a mushroom growing system in real life, since I've been reading about mycology and experimenting with it for the past year. I'm even more excited about growing our own mushrooms now that I've seen it on a larger scale. It makes me feel like we can do it.

If you'd like to know more about Growing Power, you can visit their website. And if you're ever in the Milwaukee area, I highly recommend the tour.

5 comments:

Maggie said...

Wow! There is always something going on with you!

Margaret said...

OMG! You're in a picture with someone I saw in a movie! :O

thecrazysheeplady said...

Cool!

angie said...

I think Will Allen is the greatest. I saw him speak a few months ago and I was so inspired. Plus, he LOVES worms!

LindaG said...

Thanks for all this, and thanks for the link, too. :)

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