Sunday, March 16, 2014

Grow Local, Neenah, WI

We heard a presentation by Grow Local at a Bible study class at church this morning. Grow Local was started in the summer of 2011 by Steve Catlin, Calvin Andersen, and Alex Fehrenbach. Alex and Calvin went to school together at UW-Madison where they learned about many things that were wrong with the current agricultural system. They saw Will Allen in Milwaukee with Growing Power have a lot of success.  They decided to start their business as a model of agriculture that can be replicated and can be built on a small scale and on a large scale, in local communities.  They built a system to produce sustainably indefinitely. Grow Local is "an urban permaculture farm in Neenah, WI that utilizes aquaponics, season extension, polyculture, upcycling and community outreach."

An aquaponic farm is a sustainable food production system that combines aquaculture (raising bluegills) with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water) in an environment where both the plants and fish are interdependent. The plants aren’t in any soil. Their roots are just hanging right in the water that is nutrient-rich water because of the fish waste is turned into fertilizer for the plants, and it recirculates back, cleaning the water for the fish, so they use less water.  To add micronutrients they create compost tea by adding compost, molasses and organic iron to water; removing the compost after a week, before adding the compost tea to the system.

The greenhouse contains a 7,000 gallon aquaponic system, housing 2,500 bluegill and nearly 6,000 heads of lettuce. In order to ensure the health of the system as a whole, they keep the aquaponic system’s water between 65 and 75 degrees. Since the ‘greenhouse’ is built of two layers of poly-ethylene plastic covering steel ribs,  heating  the system’s water, and on really cold nights the air, becomes critical to survival of the system.  To secure enough wood to fuel a wood-burning stove through the long, cold winter,  they began working with neighbors to manage their woodlot, removing downed trees and dead standing wood.

There is also a larger outdoor garden where intercropping is done to minimize pests and weeds. A combination of tomatoes, beets, basil, marigolds, parsley, clover and even artichokes are grown in the same root zone which helps the survival of all the plants. Potatoes are grown in tip barrels and a recycled stage from Cranky Pat’s was used to create raised beds for spinach.

They're trying to make it more intensive to prove that you can make an economically viable model out of small-scale farming that can be high-production. They are able to grow all year round, growing fresh produce that doesn’t need to be shipped.

They hope to divert at least ten tons of food waste a year to the compost pile.  They collect food waste from local restaurants and coffee grounds from local coffee shops to add to composted horse manure.

They sell almost wholly in the local community. During the summer months Grow Local has been selling produce at the Neenah farmers market.

Grow Local at Neenah Farmer's Market
They sell largely to restaurants, including Cenas, Gathering, and Zuppas which is right next door.

Letucce headed to Zuppa's
The recently opened Gather (fam to table restaurant) in
  Appleton has installed living walls, with greens and shoots
 that might end up  on your plate.
They source some of their produce from Grow Local. 

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