Youth Grow Local Conference and Growing Power

Last week I had the privilege to attend the Madison Youth Grow Local Conference and visit Growing Power in Milwaukee. These were two amazing days that really provided many ideas and inspiration for what a group of people are attempting to accomplish by creating a community garden here in Menomonie.

Growing Power & Will Allen have done an amazing job creating an urban farm in Milwaukee. As the last remaining farm in Milwaukee's central city it is a great way for many urban children to get their hands dirty, see farm animals, and learn where their food actually comes from. Despite being a not for profit organization many of their techniques have been adapted by companies in the for profit sector.

  • An innovative, yet inexpensively built, aquaponics system creates a wondrous environment where they grow crops in a re-circulating water system.
  • Worms are the main laborers recycling waste from the Milwaukee area and creating the soil that keeps Growing Power producing year round. Bees, chickens, turkeys, and goats round out the farm.
  • A few of the greenhouses yield produce throughout the winter heated only by compost and sunlight.

They are continuing to find ways to become more sustainable and soon even water and electricity will be almost entirely "off-the-grid" through water collection, large solar panels, and an anaerobic digesting system.

Growing power provides jobs and internships for area youth and anyone is welcome to come and volunteer and participate. They truly are "Growing Power." If you get a chance and have an hour or so, stop in and visit Growing Power. You are likely to leave inspired.

Here are a few photos from the trip:

The Madison Youth Grow Local Conference was also very inspirational for me. I learned a lot about how the Madison School District has incorporated school and community gardening into their curriculum in subtle ways. Folks with years of experience explained simple ways of grabbing the imagination and attention of students and using the garden to explore multiple subjects (math, science, social studies, english, art, etc) in a hands-on and memorable ways.

The keynote speaker was Tory Miller the Executive Chef & Co-Proprietor of L'Etoile Restaurant in Madison. One of his passions is working with the youth and inspiring them to eat healthier and giving them "more healthy options". He was taken aback when he went into his former High School and witnessed the type of food that was being served from fast-food style windows every single day.

He currently inspires youth as a "Chef in the Classroom" to start thinking about their choices by introducing them to new foods, getting them to try things they have never eaten before, cook with them and show them how enjoy foods they otherwise wouldn't eat alone, and get them to start thinking about the prolonged effects of having "cookie dough and Gatorade" for every meal - he joked that the kid in all of us would love to eat pizza and cheeseburgers for every meal.

The conference also provided a link to a number of exciting resources and people that will help give many of the new projects in Menomonie (from day care gardens, to school gardens, to community gardens) a boost this spring.