Tag Archives: fish farming

Growing Power

Growing Power is an urban farm and organization started by Will Allen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Growing Power produces a giant range of foods- all types of produce along with fish (tilapia or yellow perch), eggs, goat’s milk, duck, and honey. In total, the farm grows 150 crops and produces 1 million pounds of food annually on just 3 acres. And it’s in the middle of a city.

Here is the Growing Power website and two short videos about the organization: websitevideo #1,  video #2,

Growing Power employs many creative methods to be able to produce so much food in such little space. In the greenhouses where the farm grows its veggies, there are many different layers  and shelves of plants stacked to maximize the space. Growing Power also combines hydroponics (growing plants in nutrient solution, without soil) with aquaculture (fish farming) in an arrangement called Aquaponics. This system pumps water from the fish tank to the plants growing above. In this water is fish waste- which contains many nutrients like Nitrogen that fertilize the plants. As the plants absorb these nutrients and filter the waste out in the process, the newly cleaned water  flows back down to the fish who add their waste to it, and the cycle continues. Instead of having an output of waste and an input of chemical fertilizer, Growing Power imitates a healthy natural system to create a waste-free cycle. To warm the water for these fish, the farm utilizes solar energy rather than natural gas.

Instead of using chemical pesticides, Growing Power gets rid of its pests with beneficial insects like ladybugs, hand picking weeds or spraying compost tea on the leaves. Compost tea is basically liquefied compost, made by soaking compost in water. Compost tea’s pesticidal properties come from the beneficial bacteria and fungi carried in it, which compete with and get rid of harmful bacteria or fungi. Also, the soil is key. Growing crops in nutrient-rich compost gives the plants all they need to stay healthy, strong, and less vulnerable to pests.

Growing Power also farms year round even though it snows in Milwaukee and is below freezing for three months of the year. The farm is able to grow in the winter by using compost as a heat source. In the corners of the greenhouses are piles of composting organic matter. The many different microorganisms in the compost give off heat as they carry out their many processes to decompose the food waste into soil. (The center of a compost pile can be more than 150ºF.) This produces high quality soil and allows the farm to grow food in the otherwise impossible conditions of such cold weather. Growing Power collects waste from the local newspaper, brewery, coffe shop, and a few markets- a total of 10 million pounds of waste per year. This means 10 millions pounds of waste that aren’t going into landfills but instead helping to produce a variety of foods.

While Growing Power produces food in amazing ways, a huge part of their goal is also to build community. Because the company is not working for profit, it can put a lot of time and energy into outreach and education without worrying too much about money. The farm offers free daily tours that help people understand how the farm works, but also how to start their own garden. The organization offers tons of volunteer or internship opportunities  which get people off the street, interested and involved in producing their food. Growing Power also leads workshops and many other educational programs to connect with youth and adults of the community. Through their market baskets, which include produce from their farm and a cooperative of other small family farms, Growing Power offers healthy and extremely affordable produce to low-income families who would otherwise be eating highly processed and unhealthy food. Growing Power formed the Rainbow Farmers Cooperative to support these small farms, offering them a steady market for their produce as well as training and help with grants, transportation, and publicity. The organization also donates compost, seed, and other products which help to get these farms started and sustained.

In Milwaukee and now with a side project in Chicago, Growing Power helps connect sustainably grown, healthy food with community-members. But even outside these two cities, the organization’s ideas and influence spread through the Rainbow Farmers Cooperative and anyone who is inspired by their accomplishments and their story. If you are interested in learning more, check out Will Allen’s book, The Good Food Revolution, which I’ve just started.


“How I Fell in Love with a Fish”

A subscriber told me about this video, http://blog.ted.com/2010/03/10/how_i_fell_in_l/ and I think it is a pretty cool story with a great conclusion, so thanks for sharing. My favorite part of the presentation is the story Barber tells about his friend Miguel’s farm in Spain. The farm is for me a great example of humans reverting to an old system and restoring the natural cycle of a habitat. Miguel’s farm is an example of the success to be had when humans become part of the environment around us, rather than stepping outside of the natural order to exploit it for our own benefit. Miguel’s farm benefits the flamingos and the water, having a positive impact on the surrounding environment while still providing for the population. This ties into Barber’s conclusion about how we can feed the world. He brings up that many might ask how such a system could feed the world. Barber points out that we already have more than enough food to get the job done, we just need to look at the idea of self-sustenance, where each community can provide for itself. In a community like Miguel’s, no technology or medicine is needed and therefore the only limiting factor is the environment. If the whole world was made up of these kinds of systems, we could all fit into nature and share it with other living things.

However, it is difficult to place our direct relationships with these kind of places. When a farm like Miguel’s is so unique, how are we supposed to support it or buy from it? I honestly think that the closest we can get is to grow our own food in gardens and support local agriculture at farmers markets, so we can form our own self-sustaining communities. In the economic model that produces most of America’s food, a factory farmer drives to do more for less money. However, this model is inefficient if we look at the resources it uses up. The ecological model of Miguel’s farm uses less resources, less energy, and produces less waste. The transition to an ecological model will be hard. But it is still a transition we need to make if we want humans and other living things to last very long.



Seafood Watch Program and Guides

Seafood Watch Program and Guides

I used to be part of a program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and while there I would always be talking about Seafood Watch Guides. For seafood, there are lots of variables such as fishing practices which make supporting sustainable seafood much easier than supporting sustainable beef or pork (99% of America’s meat comes from factory farms). That said, it’s really hard to find out exactly which seafood to stay away from and which to buy. Certain types of seafood are almost always sustainably caught, while others vary widely. I don’t know too much about specifics, but I’ve heard filter-feeders like scallops are usually energy-efficient because they can filter food directly out of the water and therefore do not need to be fed wastefully. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, are usually very harmful to the coastline because they require many antibiotics and produce a lot of waste which is toxic to animals living in the surrounding water. For a guide which you can take to the supermarket or where ever you go check out http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/download.aspx There is also an app for iPhones or android, making it super convenient to carry around. The Seafood Watch Guide is a great success story for me, because I’ve seen it mentioned at the farmers’ market and at my school’s cafeteria. I think it shows how many people can find a connection between their food and the environment once it becomes more convenient apparent. Also, I think it’s a great sign that manufacturers are starting to advertise something like “Best Choice on Seafood Watch Guide” because they know many people are starting to care. The guide is very simple and has 3 different columns that list seafoods that are “Best Choices,” “Good Alternatives,” and those to “Avoid.” To learn about the program and recent news in seafood and the fishing industry, click on the title “Seafood Watch Program and Guides.” I think it is easy to generalize and say that farmed fish are great for the environment or tuna are always caught in ways that cause lots of bycatch, but this guide keeps us thinking and stops us from taking the easy way out and just buying the cheapest thing. I’m always thinking about how I boycott factory-farmed meat, but never really support family-farmed meat. It makes me very sad to think that I have to avoid meat completely because most of it is produced cruelly and wastefully. This guide gives us a chance to support what is right rather than just avoiding what is wrong. It empowers and educates the consumer. That said, we are of course placing a lot of power in this guide. While I think that Monterey Bay Aquarium is always researching and finding out new things, I also think it is important to question and stay up-to-date. Even though the truth of the meat industry has made me skeptical, I place my confidence in the aquarium’s research and information, especially because I know they are an agency with a goal to protect the oceans.

“The New School of Fish”

I think a lot of people overlook fish as a globally impactful part of our diet. Fish are often times even further from our consideration than cattle or other farm animals, but their effect on the environment is no less. Fishing is a vital part of our modern food industry because fish and sea creatures are in fact the last wild animal hunted on a commercial level. By choosing which fish to eat, we support a movement towards sustainability, just like choosing local produce. As often is the case with the cattle industry, companies are often secretive or misleading in their claims. To me, education is again an important factor; we should learn about where our fish really come from and what was wasted, killed, or destroyed along the way. That way, we can make decisions on what we know and feel, rather than on what is commonly believed or claimed. Here is a very interesting look at different fishing practices and sources; the story follows the author as he searches for an honest meal, questioning and learning along the way. http://www.modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/the-new-school-of-fish