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Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

By Istiaq Ratul

Growing Power originated from the purchase of a farm by Will Allen in 1993. The MacArthur Foundation Fellow Will Allen and his daughter Erika Allen have worked together to fight "food racism" through their ecologically sustainable food production hubs. Growing Power is the only land within the Milwaukee city limit zoned as farmland and it produces tons of produce every year. In addition, his operation also consisted of a food-distribution hub, organic soil production facility, and a training center, His farm is located in a food desert that is dominated by liquor stores, fast food resturants, and convenince stores with low nutrient food items.

Will Allen grew fruits and vegetables in greenhouse while raising goats, ducks, bees, chickens, turkeys. Furthermore, Allen designed an aquaponic system that features tilapia and Great Lakes perch. The aquaponic system contained 10,000 fingerlings that grow to market maturity within nine months. The water from his systems flows into a gravel bed; the waste breaks down the bed to produce nitrogen. The gavel bed supports watercress, which is a natural filter for the water. This water is then pumped to crop beds of fruits and vegetable where the plant extracts nutrients and the worms in the soil consume bacteria from the water. The excess water is clean water that can be pumped back into the fish tank to make a closed loop system. Allen was able to build this $50,000 project for a discounted price of $3,000.

Image above from Will Allen's Flickr Account but also in blog article by Civil Eats

Will Allen's purchase of 5500 Silver Springs eventually grew into a non profit organization that enlightened people about the potential of local food distribution and youth education in the sustainable field. Allen took pride innteaching low income children how to grow compost in wooden boxes; the compost consisted of worms decomposing vegetables. He grew decorative landscaping plants that he later sold to schools and community centers. Growing Power also worked with the juvenile justice sytem to create a program that allow rehabilitating youths to plant on vacant lots. By the 2000's, people from all around the world were coming to learn at the Growing Power training facility. Allen's notoriety was also attributed to him winning the MacArthur Genius Award in 2008. By 2009, Growing Power was selling food online, at farmer's markets, schools, resturants, and CSA boxes. Allen's organization grew rapidly because of the recruitment of urban agriculture and environmental justice workers. Many of these workers now lead their own urban farming enterprises. Sadly, Growing Power had to be dissolved because of poor financial health and lack of leadership in the absence of the founder. Mystic Holistic Studios plans to implement the principles of Growing Power to engender a more sustainable and accesible food market in urban communities.

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