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Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Growing Power

Complex aquaponics systems allow fish and plants to grow in harmony. 

Started by Will Allen, a former basketball player and the son of a sharecropper, Growing Power is an internationally recognized urban farm that will astonish anyone, even if you’ve never heard of compost.

The main storefront and garden operations are in a poor, urban neighborhood, and they offer fresh produce year-round to the surrounding community.

In addition to the tons of compost and soil they create each year (with the help of food waste and worms), Growing Power offers one of the most efficient and complex aquaponics systems in contemporary urban gardening. In a three-tiered system, they grow tilapia and silver lake perch in large tanks buried four feet in the ground. Water from the tanks, filled with the nutrients from the fishes’ waste, is pulled up to feed the plants above it—tomatoes on the top level and watercress on the middle level. The fish fertilize the plants, and the plants filter the water, which descends again into the fish tank. Covering one and a half acres, the farm grows 30,000 fish a year as well as chickens, mushrooms, and thousands of vegetables.

Founder Will Allen received the MacArthur Genius grant two years ago (the second farmer ever to do so), and Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Growing Power offers tours every day at 1:00 p.m., which cost $10 per person. They also teach workshops on how to build their hoop houses and fish tank systems for the intrepid gardener.

The farm has also expanded to Chicago, with “Art on the Farm,” an installation in Grant Park, and a permanent (though smaller) facility in Cabrini Green on Chicago’s West Side.

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