I am so excited I can hardly sit still.
This past weekend, through the generosity of the Duluth Community Garden Program, I attended the amazing workshop “Growing Your Community Food System from the Ground Up” at Growing Power in Milwaukee, WI. If you haven’t heard of the radicle things that Growing Power is doing then check out their site. In particular, scroll down the webpage and click on the “Good Food Manifesto For America” link to read about their philosophy and mission.
Their greenhouses are spacious and packed to the brim, with five levels of production (starting five feet below the ground with perch and tilapia aquaponics to pots hanging from the rafters) and compost and worms everywhere. Outside are have goats, ducks, chickens, turkeys and of course, bees.
Growing Power is successful at producing food for their community members as well as retailers. Half of money brought in is from what they make from production (year round microgreens, salad greens, compost, worms and worm castings). Less reliance on grants/endowments = sustainable economics. Just about every non-profit is struggling for cash as funding gets cut, threatening the existence of important community programing. The message is clear: stop consuming, start producing and keep it local.
Why make the switch to “urban farming” from “community gardening”? Urban agriculture implies that you can produce a lot and produce often to meet the needs of your surrounding community, rather then a tomato plant here or there. However, there is certainly nothing wrong with having a potted tomato or a window box as the extent of your production! Urban farming reminds me that it is time to stop messing around and grow as much as I can in the short Minnesota season, and that what we are growing is viable and essential to our successful human experience.
The most impressive part of Growing Power to me is the utter and complete emphasis on the soil. Their potted greens were the essence of health. Their secret? They start their seeds in half worm castings and half coir, and the soil in the pots are compost (rich with fungi-laden wood chips) topped with castings. The potting mixture never needs to be changed. We have to grow rich soil through vermiculture and compost. Many problems can be averted through rich, healthy soil.
So I must be off to attend to my worms, turn the compost, start seeds, push the shovel and create an edible estate. I hope you can join me!