Growing Power was once a powerhouse of a farming community that expanded beyond its location on Silver Spring Drive in Milwaukee.
Growing Power had locations in other parts of Wisconsin and in Illinois. It hosted university students and allowed K-12 students to learn about farm animals. It was nationally, even internationally, known as an innovative farming community that people could learn and study from.
Tyler Schmitt is the founder of Ultimate Farms, which is taking over the former Milwaukee property of Growing Power. Schmitt says the farm land on Silver Spring Drive is roughly 2.3 acres and housing greenhouses, fish farms and even orchards.
“There’s a triangle orchard that goes to 60th Street which is technically part of the farm,” says Schmitt. “We have a creek on the north end of it, Lincoln Creek. Sometimes there’s salmon in it. Sometimes the farmer that takes care of the goats walks the goats down there.”
When I interviewed Schmitt we sat in a greenhouse. You can hear in the background the rustling of water from the aquaponics farm. The sun’s direct light that day kept the place warm to the point that no gas or electricity was needed to heat it. It was warm enough that some of the solar panels facing south on the front of the building could have been banking energy, which Schmitt says they can sell to the city.
Also, there were baby goats out and ready to play. It was a perfect warm day minus some wind that knocked over some materials that keep the houses insulated and can take some people power to sustain.
“The tarps will kind of rip like that with the wind,” says Schmitt. “When I see that, I have to go out there and get that. I’ll probably do that this afternoon.”
Growing Power was a nonprofit that at one point employed around 150 people. It was a vibrant community that many people could enjoy.
Ultimate Farms wants to bring that community back. Like Growing Power, Ultimate Farms wants to provide fresh food to the Havenswood neighborhood where the farm is located. Havenswood lacks an abundance of fresh food options. Schmitt says they want to help fill that void with what can be grown on the property.
Hence getting more people on site. Having more farmers and neighbors on site is part of the plan to rebuild the farm site, otherwise the farm sits idle and things falls apart.
Schmitt describes an aquaponic system that’s currently shut down. “There’s no fish in those ones right now,” he says. “But they’re all in really good shape. They’re all about, I think five feet deep.”
There’s one, however, that has a rubber liner at the bottom that’s bubbled up.
“The reason this one is like this is it flooded,” Schmitt says. “We had a really heavy rainwater and the water pushed it up. The fish were all out here one morning and it wasn’t good.”
At the time, the fish were on the soft bed of black soil and grass which we were standing on.
Currently Ultimate Farms is small staffed and allows people to grow veggies and fruits inside their greenhouses. They’re taking care of the farmland mostly themselves, including the Aquaponic farms, which are basically a mini ecosystem where plants are housed with fish in freshwater and the fish provide nutrients to the water that plants utilize.
Over the summer Ultimate Power provided greenhouse access to classrooms, restaurants looking to grow their own veggies and the general public. They also have a few farmers who produce commercially.
It’s not as bustling as it was when Growing Power occupied the property, but on a Thursday or Friday there’s typically a good number of people around.
Schmitt says that they want to expand the community Growing Power once had. They also want to build self-sustaining revenue by opening up a coffee shop.
“We’re really trying to emphasize the coffee shop right now just to get that started,” Schmitt says. “We think that putting coffee in a person will be like putting it into the farm. It would give some energy, some activity and we think that’ll allow the rest of the farm to grow.”
Nov. 11 is when they launch their campaign which will explain a bit more of what Ultimate Farms does and where people can donate to help Ultimate Farm reach its goal of building a coffee shop.
Schmitt says once people are on the property they get hooked, with about 80% of the people who visit coming back to either volunteer, garden or attend concerts when they can host them.
Touring the property, it was hard not to be drawn in as the property is abundant with green technology, outside of the farming itself, like solar panels and glycol heating systems that helps it stay self-sustaining. If you’re into engineering and systems it’s pretty entertaining.
Then there’s the amount of business that can come out of the farm. A huge mound of compost once shifted provides fresh dirt for the farms.
“There’s probably like nine or 10 small businesses that could come out of it, soil being one of them. And it’s really good soil too,” says Schmitt.
But it’s getting people back and building a community that comes first. Schmitt thinks they can do it with how much people have loved Green Power before and how much people are looking forward to farming, outdoor activities and connecting with one another.
The Nov. 11 launch date of their fundraiser is hopefully just the beginning of a long running sustainable farm.
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