The Sky is the Limit

As a follow up to my post on “Will Allen – Planting the Seeds of the Future,” (which amazingly was somehow freshly pressed!) I wanted to share an article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that gives a look ahead into what Growing Power’s next giant step will be. If you already buy into the urban agriculture movement and organic farming, it is only going to grow higher and higher, literally. Please read the amazing article below by Karen Herzog of the Journal Sentinel, about the proposed 5 story vertical farm that will soon be occupying Growing Power’s property. Enjoy.

It’s hard to imagine a five-story farm in the middle of a city, but if Milwaukee urban farmer Will Allen is behind the idea, anything’s possible.

After all, Allen is a world hero, according to an issue of Time magazine that hits newsstands Friday. He’s among 100 individuals and small groups picked by Time editors for the annual “Time 100: The World’s Most Influential People,” which honors ideas, innovations and actions that are “shaping our world.”

Allen already has been dubbed a genius by the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation, which awarded him a $500,000 “genius grant” in 2008.

Now all Allen and Growing Power’s board of directors must do is find $7 million to $10 million to build the farm that Allen has been envisioning for nearly two decades to take his nonprofit enterprise to the next level.

Backers say the futuristic urban farm designed to intensively produce vegetables and fish could become an icon for Milwaukee, and a model for cities around the world to grow affordable, healthful food close to consumers. It also could create a whole new industry with thousands of jobs for urban farmers and those who design and build city farms around the world, Allen said.


Images: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.

“It’s something a bit counterintuitive with the economy going south, but we’ve come to the conclusion that Growing Power is going north,” said Jerry Kaufman, board president for Growing Power and a professor emeritus of urban planning. “There aren’t too many Will Allens around, and so far we haven’t developed the science to clone him.

“I see the decade of 2010 as potentially explosive for what Will calls, The Good Food Revolution.”

The vertical farm – dramatic in shape and with an expansive, sloped glass front to absorb natural light – would be built at Growing Power’s existing 2-acre farm at 5500 W. Silver Spring Drive through local and federal donations and grants. A half-dozen existing greenhouses would be preserved as historic structures.

It would have 23,000 square feet for classrooms, a demonstration kitchen, offices, staff locker room, retail store, food processing, loading dock and freezers. An additional 15,000 square feet of sloped area, facing Silver Spring Drive, would be devoted to growing vegetables and fish. Fish tanks for perch and tilapia would be trenched into the ground. The building would have a rooftop solar panel, would capture rainwater to be recycled for watering plants, and would transfer heat from the building top to a thermal mass underneath to store for future use.

The vertical farm is conceptualized in drawings by Kubala Washatko Architects Inc. in Cedarburg (my hometown!), whose designs have included the Urban Ecology Center, the Iron Horse Hotel and the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center near Baraboo – buildings known for their strong connections to neighborhoods and use of natural light and building materials.

Image: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.

Image: The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.

“This would be the first of its kind in the world that we know of,” said architect Allen Washatko, co-founder of the Cedarburg architectural firm. “This concept is intended for areas where land availability is scarce and where ‘going up’ to create agricultural space would be in demand.”

It’s time to stop dreaming and start building, Allen said.

“Somebody’s gotta build the first one,” he said. “We’ve taken a leading role in urban agriculture, and we’ve pioneered a lot of firsts, so why shouldn’t we be the ones to do it?”

Allen, 61, for years has been calling attention to the widespread existence of “food deserts” in cities across America, where whole communities lack access to fresh, nutritious, affordable food, and underserved populations have high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

He keeps a hectic schedule – which will slow down in two weeks when he has knee replacement surgery. He speaks at workshops and universities around the world. Growing Power’s board members heartily applaud Allen but privately worry that he will be in even greater demand as he continues to gain a higher international profile.

(article “Dubbed a hero, Allen looks to take farming to the skies” via the Journal Sentinel, images courtesy of The Kubala Washatko Architects, Inc.)

About Zak Suhar

Explorer, photographer, and digital marketer. New York City by way of the Midwest.
This entry was posted in Architecture, Cities, Food and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Sky is the Limit

  1. Hey there fellow Wisconsiner (Wisconsinite? I never know).

    I loved your fresh pressed post, and this one is great too! I had no idea Growing Power was thinking of expanding – I guess I don’t read the Journal enough. Have you ever been to Sweet Water Organics in Bayview, per chance? If you like Growing Power, they might be right up your alley. (I’m not certain, but I feel like Will Allen had something to do with their creation too, maybe.)

    Happy blogging!

    • Zak Suhar says:

      Hey fellow Sconnie. Thanks for reading some of my posts, and I am glad you liked them! I have been to Sweet Water Organics once yes and only hope to return. I am almost certain their work is inspired off of Growing Power, but with more of a focus on aquaponics. Hope all is well in Wisco!

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