Magic Mama performed for the Milwaukee Urban Gardens 10th Year Anniversary Gala and turned the whole weekend into a grand home school adventure. We visited Growing Power and were treated to a private tour. Following is a photo journal with a few scattered notes.
After passing through the small store front where locals can buy fresh produce, we entered a green house where people were busy with the pea shoots. One man was harvesting shoots from the flats by cutting them with a scissors. Above, the flats of pea roots are turned out into a wheel barrow to be delivered to a compost area.
Here you see much of what Growing Power is famous for: aquaponics and vertical gardening. This whole operation is located IN the city. Thousands of fish are swimming around in rainwater (more on water catchment to follow), the fish water is pumped up into long troughs that hold cress and pea gravel. The pea gravel hosts beneficial bacteria that help clean the water as it filters through the cress and back to the fish. The same water is used for all the plants and fish.
Above, Kate explains the process of filtering and feeding all the organisms that make Growing Power grow. Jahmes (on the left) is a fabulous percussionist who performed with me at both venues for the weekend and hosted our tour.
Below, rather than using peat moss (which takes hundreds of years to regenerate), Growing Power utilizes one of my favorite plants: the coconut!
The coconut has a thick, fiberous layer around the nut (actually, it's a seed). This fiber is harvested and ground to a pulp, and then shipped in blocks. Pictured above are a couple of shitake logs on the far left, a coier block (a word derived from coconut fiber), then the coier all crumbled, rough coconut fiber, coier mixed with compost made by the famous Red Wigglers at Growing Power. The coier is mixed with the compost to aerate the soil and hold moisture.Here you can see all the worm bins. Along with composting any of their own vegetable matter, Growing Power collects food scraps from around the city and turns it into Black Gold.
Burlap coffee sacks over the worm bins help keep them from drying out and gives the worms a dark place to work their magic. Micro greens in pots everywhere!
Shitake logs suspended over talapia tanks. Growing Power raises about 80,000 Lake Perch and 80,000 Talapia at a time!
Micro Greens Galore!
A BIG fish tank, filled with rain water harvested from the rooftops. They have an outdoor water tank that holds 10,000 gallons and they are currently building a new one to hold 20,000 gallons!
Solar Panels used to pump the water around the greenhouses. Some visitors from Guinea left a working example of a common raised bed style garden used in their home villages. A burlap sack is filled with soil, holes are cut and plants are "plugged in." It retains moisture quite well.
Some beautiful cress!
HOLY SH!T - That's a big pile of dung! Growing Power now has contracts with Sysco who delivers fresh greens to restaurants around the region. Another benefit of the urban garden is the Farm to School link, providing fresh, vital energy to the public school cafeterias!
Indoor kale forest!
Goats in the yard eat the produce not deemed "good enough" for distribution. Manure makes good fertilizer too. Plus, they're so dang cute and have a lot of personality!
Urban goats are quite curious and definitely not shy!
Through another hoop house, tucked back in the corner of the lot....BEES!
This is a bee pod, meant to emulate a fallen log. Apparently, these urban bees are a bit more aggressive, perhaps just street wise?
A quote from the Growing Power Site:
Our bees may be the hardest workers on the farm - and that is saying something! Worker bees travel more than 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to collect pollen to make just one pound of honey. At Growing Power, our apiary is filled with European Honey Bees, or Apis Mellifera. The bees collect nectar from several sources, but in Milwaukee the primary pollen source is white clover and basswood, creating a light yellow, delicious, high-value honey. Each hive produces 150 pounds of honey each year.
We currently have 14 active hives in Milwaukee and 6 hives in Chicago at our Iron Street Urban Farm. In July, when the hives are in peak production, each hive has over 60,000 bees. That is 300,000 bees pollinating crops, trees, and flowers in our neighborhood. To put it another way, a 2000 Cornell University study concluded that the direct value of honey bee pollination to U.S. agriculture is more than $14.6 billion each year.
As if honey and better crop production wasn't enough reason to have honey bees, our Chicago Youth Corps also uses the beeswax to create value-added beauty products, such as lip balm, soap, scrubs, and candles.