I’ve been privileged to spend an amazing few days in Wisconsin this past week. The nation’s dairyland is a state I’ve never been too, so part of the appeal was seeing a totally new part of the country. The primary reason for the visit was to attend the Growing Power aquaponics workshop in Milwaukee – and the added bonus was a visit with Tim Erdman, longtime Tellurider, at his Madison home.
Growing Power is amazing place and growing concept. It was started and continues to be directed by Will Allen. Will was a professional basketball player, marketer for Proctor and Gamble and someone who grew up growing food. Growing Power is a nonprofit operating in Milwaukee with the goal of growing food, growing minds and growing community. They do this on a small site in town limits that started out with a few derelict greenhouses and now contains eight greenhouses and many hoop houses. They produce volumes of microgreens, mushrooms, and now fish, onsite.
They host workshops every month – one in aquaponics and one offering participants their choice of topics: Mycoscaping (mushrooms), Year-round Greenhouse Production (microgreens), Compost and Vermicompost, Hoop-house Construction, Community Project Planning, Renewable Energy and Beekeeping.
Aquaponics, though not new to humans, is undergoing rapid transformation and growth. It involves raising fish for food and using that water to grow plants in a fairly closed loop system. It sounds simple enough, but to see the systems in person and begin to pick apart the pieces is fascinating. It takes one layer of a greenhouse and turns it into three productive surfaces at once. In the Growing Power system, they are raising yellow perch, watercress, nasturtiums, mint and a host of vegetables in pots.
More about that project in the near future.
The other fantastic part of the trip included visits to Tim’s unique development at Middleton Hills and another one on the planning table as well as the Badger Rock Middle School and Resilience Research Center. This charter school opened just last year and is built to LEED platinum standards with such amazing features – and plans for Phase 2 – that it was hard to stop smiling. The partnership between the school and the Research Center has created an amazing learning space, currently for sixth and seventh grade, with eighth grade coming soon. Much of the area is devoted to community space for yoga, dancing, cooking classes, etc.
A new aquaponics greenhouse is up and soon to be running in partnership with Growing Power. Of course I was attracted to the greenhouse, but the ambience of the entire building makes you want to linger. Wood from trees cleared from the site is featured throughout the space. Classrooms feature big barn-style sliding doors that mean two classrooms can merge into one larger learning area. The greenhouse has a workroom that incorporates an area for dirty boots and tools, with places where the kids can clean up after getting dirty. It also has a direct window so the produce from the greenhouse can go directly into a room for cleaning and processing. The school features dual kitchens – one for school breakfasts, lunches and snacks and another that can be leased out to community members. The rooftop is covered with solar panels, in two different styles of arrays, and an awning on the south side that’s actually made from solar panels. It has geothermal systems, water catchment and retention and natural daylighting with solar tubes. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
What’s outside the building was just as exciting for me as the interior. There are three large student gardens, one for each grade at buildout. There will be several hoop houses for extended season growing, and one side is dedicated to neighborhood community garden spaces. Another area is dedicated to Growing Power’s use for outdoor growing as well. They are catching and storing large amounts of water in underground tanks. Rainwater is “treated” with UV light and routed to outdoor taps so city water (with its chemical makeup) is kept out of the growing areas.
The folks involved gave us a full tour, and their excitement and passion for their work and this project were evident. Check out both of these websites for more details and information about any of the above, or catch me on the street! Growing Power can be found at www.growingpower.org. Badger Rock School is at www.badgerrockweb.madison.k12.wi.us and the Center for Resilient Cities is at www.resilientcities.org.