Audrey Todd, Energy Corps member serving with Imagine Grinell in Iowa, had the opportunity to attend a Growing Power workshop in Milwaukee.
MILWAUKEE, Wisc. – I arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on a foggy evening. I had dreamed the fog would clear by morning, the sun would come out, and spring would be here. Alas, I woke up to a light dusting of snow and below freezing weather; it’s a good thing I brought my big winter coat. Any other time in the winter, this morning would have been picturesque. I would have planned a day of sipping hot cocoa and snuggling into a giant comforter.
It is easy to say that it is not the kind of morning you expect to have on your way to a training workshop on urban farming, but Growing Power isn’t what you expect. It’s about dismantling preconceived notions. To quote Will Allen, CEO & Founder of Growing Power, “I grew a million pounds of food on just a few acres, in the dead of winter-without heating.”
The workshop began with breakfast and introductions: Who are you? How are you trying to impact your community? How did you hear about Growing Power?
Hi, I’m Audrey. I am an Energy Corps service member for Imagine Grinnell, a quality of life and environmental non-profit in Iowa. I work on energy efficiency and local food efforts and as a part of that, I am Director of the Grinnell Community Garden. I heard about Will Allen and Growing Power in a new class in college when I realized my interest in food systems and local food was something I could academically learn about, too.
There were local food movers and shakers from across the country and from right in town. Some of them were new to local food and for others it had been a continuing presence throughout their life. I met current farmers, future farmers, non-profit business starters, and garden and community lovers. All were interested in sustainability. It was an exciting group to be with.
We walked around the two acres, seeing first hand the millions of pounds of food being grown on site. It was entirely impressive and heartwarming to see. There is something about being surrounded by thousands of little seedlings poking their green little heads out of this deep dark chocolate brown soil while it is snowing outside that was amazing. I had never seen soil so healthy in my life and especially not soil like that while the rest of the Midwest is still frozen outside.
During the Compost and Vermicompost, we met with John, a soil scientist and farmer. He taught us the compost portion. At Growing Power, they have a two tier system of composting. First, they compost in large quantities, partnering for pickups and deliveries with businesses around the area for leftover fruits, veggies, beer mash, coffee grounds, etc! Second, they add the mixed compost to the vermicompost. I am not sure of the science behind it, but the soil they were producing was beautiful.
Will Allen told me during the workshop on Composting and Vermicomposting “to never let anyone tell me something can’t be done.” The day ended with a group dinner, where we had local drinks and lots of greens from the greenhouse.
On the second day, I took intensive, hands-on training offering diverse groups the opportunity to learn, plan, develop, operate, and sustain community food projects. I brought Will’s advice to this workshop, feeling empowered.
The workshop was run by Laurell Sims and Erika Allen, Will’s daughter and one of my personal heroes. Both of them run the Growing Power in Chicago. They challenged us to talk about big visions—what do we want to do and what is the outcome. Next, we had a brain storming session on our own to create a visual of the vision. I loved taking my concrete ideas and visualizing them. It was exciting, helpful, and therapeutic all at the same time. Afterwards, we presented our visions. I spoke of the Grinnell Gleaning Project that I am trying to get off the ground. The Grinnell Gleaning Project is designed to send a volunteer group to collect extra fruit and produce from the trees and gardens that individuals register. The fresh fruits and vegetables will then go to the food bank, MICA, or to be enjoyed at Grinnell’s weekly community meal. With it, I hope it increases access to healthy and delicious foods; it will utilize established resources while filling bellies and creating community.
There was so much that happened at the workshop, it would be impossible to explain it all. I hope to keep everything I learned fresh and continue to share the knowledge in the coming days, weeks, months, years. I’ll leave you with a last request:
Figure out whatever your vision is and go do it. Start today.
Audrey is a graduate of Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois. While in college, she took a term off to better understand the ways of low-impact living and was a sustainable farm apprentice at Nature’s Way Farm in Henderson, IL. After college, she worked on a winning State Senate Campaign in Illinois for a Senator who champions local food. Audrey is now taking Imagine Grinnell’s energy education efforts and working to make them hands-on. She maintains the Home Energy Audit Toolkits and is wo rking to create a community based volunteer audit and weatherization team. Additionally, she is designing an interactive Powesheik County Energy Guide. Audrey is continuing several projects focused on local foods, including a revamping the Grinnell community garden. She is hoping to restore the wetland prairie at Grinnell Middle School to make into an outdoor classroom.