PART 2 – How 1 MILLION Pounds Of Organic Food Can Be Produced On 3 Acres

By  Andy Whiteley

Co-Founder of Wake Up World

I recently posted an article, How 1 MILLION Pounds Of Organic Food Can Be Produced On 3 Acres,  which  featured the work of farmer Will Allen, the Urban Farmer. Will  has figured out a self-sustaining agricultural system that can  grow 1 million pounds of food every year, on just 3 acres of land using the  symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a re-circulating system.

And you can do it too!

The response we received from our previous story was amazing, and  we received countless  questions from readers  who wanted to know more about this simple but ground-breaking concept.  So today, I am happy to provide  you more detailed information on Aquaponics  and  the  Growing Power organisation’s community initiatives, answer some of your frequently asked questions, and share with you an interview with Will Allen (pictured), the founder of Growing Power.

Growing Power

Growing Power began with a farmer, a plot of land, and a core group of dedicated young people. Today, their love of the land and their dedication to sharing knowledge of sustainably farming practices is changing lives for the better.

According to founder Will Allen  “If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community. I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.”

At Growing Power, their  goal is a simple one:  to grow food,  to grow minds,  and to grow communities.

So how do they do it?

Growing Power’s Projects

Growing Power’s community projects fall into three essential areas of focus:

Grow –  Projects and Growing Methods

Growing Power demonstrates their easy-to-replicate growing methods through  on-site workshops and hands-on demonstrations. They have farms in Milwaukee and Merton, Wisconsin, and in Chicago, Illinois. Growing Power has also established satellite-training sites in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Mississippi.

The simple truth is that it all starts with the soil. Without good soil,  crops don’t get enough of the nutrients they need to survive and  when plants are stressed, they are more prone to disease and pest  problems. That’s why they grow their own compost and vermicomposting – 10 million tons of it a year.    That compost goes onto every growing bed  they raise crops on. Because they know what goes in to the compost,  they aren’t worried that the soil is contaminated with lead or other  chemicals that humans just shouldn’t eat.

Bloom –  Education and Technical Assistance

Growing Power’s educates folks through local, national, and international  outreach for farmers and communities. They also run multiple  youth programs, have an active  volunteer base, and actively work on agricultural  policy initiatives.

Thrive –  Food  Production and Distribution

Food production occurs in the organization’s demonstration greenhouses, rural farm site in Merton, and urban farms in Milwaukee and Chicago. They also distribute produce, grass-based meats, and value-added products through the activities of over 300 small family farmers in the  Rainbow Farmers Cooperative, and the organization’s year-round food security program the  Farm-to-City Market Basket Program. They also  sell produce to numerous restaurants and small grocery stores in Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee.

Interview – Will Allen, the Urban Farmer

Will Allen: The Urban Farmer from Spark Project on Vimeo.

Cornerstones of Growing Power


Aquaculture is the symbiotic cultivation of plants and aquatic animals in a re-circulating system. Growing  Power uses Tilapia and Yellow Perch to fertilize a variety of crops and herbs using aquaponics,  the method of growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system. In the Growing Power aquaponics model, crops grow vertically on raised beds.

Learn more:


Bees may be the hardest workers on the farm – and that is saying something!    Worker bees travel more than 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to collect pollen to make just one pound of honey.   At Growing Power, their apiary is filled with European Honey Bees, or Apis Mellifera.   The bees collect nectar from several sources, but in Milwaukee the primary pollen source is white clover and basswood, creating a light yellow, delicious, high-value honey.    Each hive produces 150 pounds of honey each year.

Learn more:


Living systems are composed of carbon residue, microorganisms, minerals, and red wriggler worms. The resulting material is remarkably fertile, giving plants access to the nutrients needed for both plant growth and for human nutrition. The “closed-loop” ecological approach to this system allows for the clean up of contaminants in the soil, for digestion and transformation of food waste, and for the production of fertilizer that is far more effective than chemical treatments. The high microbial count in their system helps fight off soil disease and breaks down food waste rapidly, keeping plants strong and healthy.

Learn more:


At Growing Power’s urban farm in Milwaukee, they raise a variety of livestock to create fertilizer for their farms and as a protein source. They feed their livestock an all-natural, sustainably raised grass and vegetable diet, and they supplement with commercial vegetable feed when needed. They do not use antibiotics or growth hormones on any of their animals.

Learn more:


Vermicompost,  or worm compost, is the final product of the breakdown of organic material by worms.   At Growing Power, they use worms to create a nutrient-rich, organic fertilizer and soil conditioner that they use on all of their growing beds and as a value-added product that they sell at their store and at farmers’ markets.

There  are many varieties of worms, but for worm bin composting, they use a few specific earthworm species called Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida) or Red Earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus). Red worms are often found in soils rich with organic materials in Europe and North America. These species prefer living in compost piles and crawl horizontally throughout the pile to consume rotting food waste

Learn more:


The Urban Farm Currently Includes:

  • six traditional greenhouses  growing over 15,000 pots of herbs, salad mix, beet greens, arugula, mustards, seedlings, sunflower and radish sprouts.    These greenhouses also host production of six hydroponic systems growing Tilapia, Perch, and a variety of herb and salad greens, and over 50 bins of red wriggler worms;
  • two  aquaponics hoop houses  with two independent fish runs and growing beds for additional salad mix and seedlings;
  • seven  hoop houses  growing a mixture of salad greens  and mushrooms;
  • a worm depository  hoop house;
  • an apiary  with  14  beehives;
  • three poultry hoop houses  with  laying hens and ducks;
  • outdoor pens for livestock  including goats  and turkeys;
  • a large plot of land on which the first stage of the organization’s sophisticated  composting operation  is located including 30 pallet compost systems;
  • an  anaerobic digester  to produce energy from the farm’s food waste;
  • a  rain water catchment system; and
  • a retail store  to sell produce, meat, worm castings, and compost to the community.

Will Allen Talks Us Through ‘Growing Power’

Community Food Centers

Growing Power’s Community Food Centers are local places where people can learn sustainable practices to grow, process, market, and distribute food. The prototype for Community Food Centers is the Growing Power facility at  5500 W. Silver Spring Drive in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The centre offers schools, universities, government agencies, farmers, activists, and community member’s opportunities to learn from and participate in the development and operation of Community Food Systems.

This historic two-acre farm is the last remaining farm and greenhouse operation in the City of Milwaukee. Since 1999,  their Community Food Centre has provided a wonderful space for hands-on activities, large-scale demonstration projects, and for growing a myriad of plants, vegetables, and herbs. In a space no larger than a small supermarket live some 20,000 plants and vegetables, thousands of fish, and a livestock inventory of chickens, goats, ducks, rabbits, and bees.

Learn more:

Regional Outreach Training Centers

The vision for  Regional Outreach Training Centers is to provide Growing Power’s technical training support at the local level as an expansion of their Vision:  Inspiring communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time. A Regional Outreach Training Center, or ROTC, will be able to host Growing Power, “From the Ground Up” type workshop for the region and will receive technical support to plan and develop a Community Food Systems project inspired by Growing Power’s Community Food Center and Projects.

Growing Power  transforms communities by supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environments in which they live through the development of Community Food Systems.   These systems provide high-quality, safe, healthy, affordable food for all residents in the community.  Growing Power develops Community Food Centers, as a key component of Community Food Systems, through training, active demonstration, outreach, and technical assistance.

Learn more:

Volunteer – Ready to Get Your Hands Dirty?

Whether you want to help your community, learn more about growing food, or just want to get your hands in the soil, Growing Power offers opportunities for individuals and groups to get in touch with the land.    Many different types of volunteer opportunities exist, from farming to graphic design.

Learn more:

Daily Tours


Growing Power tours of their Community Food Center in Milawaukee begin at 1:00 pm every day of the week. A tour of the facility costs $10.00 per person, and typically takes a little over an hour to complete.


Tours of the  Chicago Lights Urban Farm occur every Saturday from March through to November at 10:00am. A donation of $10.00 is suggested.

State of The Re:Union – a  Food Revolution In Milwaukee


Growing Power  Contact Information:

Milwaukee National Headquarters and Urban Farm:

5500 W. Silver Spring Drive, Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53218

Tel. 414.527.1546 l Fax 414.527.1908

Email:  [email protected]



Previous articles by Andy Whiteley:

About the author:

Andy Whiteley  is a former corporate manager  turned writer, editor and co-founder of  Wake Up World.  Guided by a strong sense of justice, Andy is a vocal advocate for genuine systemic change. He  believes we are on a necessary path (albeit bumpy) to a renewed social model – grounded in love, transparency, individuality, sustainability and spirit – and through his role at Wake Up World,  he hopes to have a positive influence on  that transition.

Andy lives  with his partner of 13 years (co-founder, Ryan)  and  currently splits his time between Wake Up World and the beautiful hills  of the NSW Central Coast.


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