Tag Archives: sustainable living

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.

-Simon

Permaculture

I remember the first time I heard about permaculture. I heard someone mention the word at Chewonki and asked them about it. Permaculture is hard to describe without providing a lot of details and examples, but its essentially a way of living and farming, of applying certain techniques and ideas in order to grow food in the most healthy, efficient, self-sustaining way. I’m talking about permaculture on here because I think it’s a great solution to a lot of the problems we face with food and energy shortages, but also because it is such a fascinating system with all sorts of unique techniques and ideas.

Permaculture or permanent agriculture is described by one of its creators, Bill Mollison, as “a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature; of protracted and thoughtful observation rather than premature and thoughtless labor; and of looking at plants and animals in all their functions, rather than treating any area as a single project system.”

Permaculture is built off three core ideas of taking care of the earth, taking care of people, and sharing. By keeping in mind what is needed by people, the earth, and all that lives here, we can figure out how to live in balance, taking what is necessary and giving extra to others and back to the earth. It is a holistic approach; the ideas overlap and work together. We need the earth and sustenance from it. We can help the earth get what it needs.

There are also 12 principles which govern the cycle of learning and improving the permaculture system. They include producing no waste, using biodiversity, and learning from nature’s patterns. More details and examples can be found here by clicking on the icons.

Permaculture is essentially the opposite of the wasteful, pesticide-ridden monoculture that produces most of our food. Instead of a flat field of homogenous corn, permaculture integrates several layers, learning from the efficiency of a natural system like a jungle. The layers, from the ground up, consist of cover crops (to reduce erosion), root crops, low herbaceous plants (the kind of annuals we have in gardens), woody shrubs (like berries), small and large trees, with vines crossing all of these layers vertically.

Other things that separate permaculture from more typical agriculture are its zones and patterns. The zones move out from a central house to the most frequently used and needy plants, main crops and orchards, through semi-wild areas for foraging and in the end an area kept completely wild. The plants may grow in a spiral pattern, from the top of a hill down with water trickling out to get the most of the resource.

Permaculture isn’t really plausible for most people without a huge commitment of time and money. That’s not to say we can’t learn from these principles or adopt some of them in our own houses, even if on a much smaller scale. Whether it’s composting chicken manure to cycle waste back into your garden or giving extra veggies to your neighbors, it’s a great approach to living in harmony with your surroundings.

Sources:

http://permacultureprinciples.com/index.php

http://www.holmgren.com.au/frameset.html?http://www.holmgren.com.au/html/Writings/weeds.html

http://www.shirleymaclaine.com/articles/environment/article-292

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture

-Simon

Beginning thoughts

This is the first post and you can find more information under the about tab. Future posts here will just be thoughts and ideas. Under different tabs, you can find more such as recent articles, book reviews, and facts.

To start off, I’d like to share some of my fundamental thoughts regarding the preservation of the environment on a basic level, disregarding vegetarianism. To me, it is a no-brainer that the earth deserves our respect and that we should aim to protect it for the creatures to come. No matter your political party or religion, you can see that if we do not think about the environmental consequences of our actions, we will destroy this planet, a home for millions of species, only one of which is us. Why should humans automatically come before other animals, plants, fungi etc.? It seems ridiculous to say that a mushroom is just as important as a human, but it is a ridiculous counter-argument to say that we are smarter and more advanced so we have the right to do what we wish to this planet. If one truly applied that to human life, it could be said that a smarter person could kill a dumber person, because they are more intelligent and advanced. Put yourself in the shoes of any other organism on this earth. A snake could kill us with its venom and is more advanced than humans in that aspect. Does that mean we should respect its evolution-given authority, and say that it has a right to kill all animals with its venom, just as humans do with their brains? Does a smart person have the right to kill a dumb person? Any morals get in the way of that. So truly, any environmental issue becomes a moral issue, because we only say it is not right for us to be doing this. It is true that we are more advanced in many ways than other organisms, but to me that  doesn’t mean it’s okay to destroy them. We would think it awful to torture a cat or dog, so why is it not bad to do the same to a cow or pig. Taking a vegetarian diet into account, its unnecessary; why take part in unnecessary slaughter and mistreatment of animals? If we all knew about the awful things done to animals in factory farms, we would understand the wrongs of eating meat. As Paul McCartney once said, “If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” Check out our facts and quotes page for more. As always, everything here is my opinion, so please don’t take offense. Please comment any counter-arguments or disagreements you have. I am always interested in a new perspective.

-Simon