In the first half of 2013 Growing Power planned for the upcoming year of expanded growing areas which now include 300 acres of crop land and 100 acres of year round green houses. The expanded growing space required greater operational capacity and organization of our Rainbow Farmers Cooperative (RFC). Data systems and marketing initiatives were upgraded to facilitate greater sales and distribution opportunities. During this time we held our “Weekend Workshop Series” one weekend a month from January through June. 20 aspiring farmers participated in the Commercial Urban Agriculture (CUA) program, attended six months of workshops and were graduated from the program. Several thousand aspiring farmers participated in these trainings. A stand alone three day training series designed specially for aquaponics entrepreneurs, was also held each month.
Our day to day operations continue to inspire thousands of people through tours offered seven days a week, volunteer opportunities at our farms, work opportunities for urban youth, career advancing training for interns, and building the local food system in South East Wisconsin. Food systems were built through our market basket program, our wholesale operation, farm stands at local corporations, and at our café and farm stand.
Some new initatives include our involvement at Westlawn, which is Wisconsins’ largest public housing development. In collaboration with the housing authority and community members a community garden was established. Garden plots were sold for $10 and community members started to garden in their neighborhood. Growing Power provided daily supervision and support for the gardeners through our intern program. All the garden plots were filled with vegetable plants donated by Growing Power. This year Growing Power was part of the Americorps Farm to School Program and had two workers for 20 hours a week. The workers engaged six schools and provided nutrition education, training for teachers on starting gardens and aquaponic systems, and attended open houses to promote farm to school initiatives. The workers developed a curriculum that they used with students.
Significant progress was made in establishing green houses on Milwaukee Public Schools property at the schools. In collaboration with the school district, meetings were held with teachers, principals, and district administrators to establish a protocol for building and maintaining a year round green house at the school for the purpose of growing vegetables to be used at the school. We hope to build the first of these hoop house- green houses this fall and work on creating a template for a microeconomy centered around using the produce at the schools and selling the excess in the local area. Growing Power is also a member of a city wide aquaponic group that facilitates the development of aquaponic systems in school settings throughout Southeastern Wisconsin.
At our main farm and training center we continue to evolve and build additional year round green houses. Our goat operation grows each year with the addition of additional goats and this year we hope to collaborate with the only urban dairy in Wisconsin to make goat milk cheese. Black soldier flies have a new home on the farm with their own feeding station and green house. They are very happy flies and grow by the millions. Eventually their larve will be used to feed our 30,000 fish which are thriving in our aquaponic systems.
We are excited to harvest our expanded fields this fall and we thank your organization for your ongoing support of “The Good Food Revolution”.