Urban farms, aquaponics
International team recognizes Milwaukee's 'high potential' to improve access to healthy food, revitalize neighbor hoods and create jobs.
Milwaukee could become more economically viable and help the world feed itself through urban agriculture and aquaponics - water-efficient systems that can transform abandoned factories and vacant lots into urban farms that raise fish and vegetables, a report released Monday says.
Milwaukee already has the base investment and model to improve access to healthy food while revitalizing neighborhoods and creating jobs, says the report, which lays out a game plan for the city to take urban food production to the next level.
The report was prepared by an international team from technology and consulting firm IBM, which spent three weeks this summer analyzing the city's prospects around the theme "Smarter Cities Feed Themselves." The team visited Growing Power, a nonprofit urban farm at 5500 W. Silver Spring Drive that pioneered aquaponics, and Sweet Water Organics, a commercial aquaponic farm in an old factory in Bay View. The team also looked at Natural Green Farms, a commercial aquaponic farm in an abandoned, four-story manufacturing building in Racine.
Milwaukee was one of 24 "high-potential" cities around the world chosen by IBM to receive expertise at no cost to improve quality of life in the areas of water, energy, health care, transportation, communication or social services. In each city, the IBM team set out to synchronize and analyze efforts among sectors and agencies, and to compile information for decision makers to help them anticipate - rather than just react to - problems.
Milwaukee has an entrepreneurial history of creating homegrown industries such as mining and manufacturing and has a reputation as a leader in water research, the IBM team noted in its report. Growing food on vacant city lots and developing a food industry around water could be next.
"I'm very optimistic, but my optimism is based on a very pragmatic approach," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who expressed concern about "over-promising."
"The potential is there to create jobs. There's no doubt," the mayor said. "But it will be most sustainable if it's done on an organic basis," without creating an oversupply or false demand, he said.
"This entire movement has been organic, so it's going to grow at the speed at which it can grow itself. I don't want to leave the impression that six months to a year from now, the city will be magically transformed. It's going to be neighborhood by neighborhood."
By 2050, cities will house more than two-thirds of the world's population.
Many cities, including Milwaukee, have "food deserts," or large areas without traditional grocery stores because poverty is high, and supermarkets choose not to operate there. As a result, residents have less access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Neighborhood corner stores and convenience stores typically don't offer quality fresh produce.
"It's an issue for chronic diseases," said Paul Hunter, associate medical director for the Milwaukee Health Department and an assistant professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
"It makes it very difficult for people who already have chronic diseases to follow the recommendations of what they know they should eat when they don't have access," Hunter said.
Creating jobs through urban agriculture could help lift some neighborhoods out of poverty, and that could have a positive effect on public health issues such as infant mortality, he said.
Homegrown initiatives in Milwaukee are filling some of the gaps and are revitalizing neighborhoods while feeding them, said Young Kim, executive director of the Fondy Food Center, 2347 W. Fond du Lac Ave.
One initiative Kim is involved with links corner stores with local vegetable growers.
Another initiative is nutrition advocacy and community gardens nurtured by Walnut Way Conservation Corp., a nonprofit neighborhood organization whose co-founder, Sharon Adams, is featured in an IBM video about Milwaukee's potential in urban farming.
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a stake in this, too.
UWM Chancellor Mike Lovell noted in the IBM video that the university launched the nation's first graduate School of Freshwater Sciences "because we are located right here along the banks of Lake Michigan, and this gives a real competitive advantage because water is becoming such a scarce resource."
It takes a lot of water to grow food.
But aquaponics is a water-efficient way to produce large quantities of fish and vegetables in tight spaces. Aquaponics is a closed-loop system that simulates a wetland. Plants act as water filters to keep fish healthy, and fish waste acts as a natural fertilizer to help plants grow.
The release of the IBM report coincides with a regional water summit at Discovery World on Monday and Tuesday, hosted by the Milwaukee Water Council.
The IBM team recommends that the city:
Form an Urban Agriculture and Aquaponics Council, based on the successful model of the Milwaukee Water Council. The new council would advance science and business success through sharing of knowledge, innovation and technology by for-profit, nonprofit and public sector stakeholders.
Establish an Aquaponics Innovation Center to help area universities and K-12 schools transfer technology and develop skills. The center also would evaluate new aquaponics technologies and help develop aquaponics businesses by analyzing best practices and economic impact.
Do a market analysis of aquaponics production, supply chain expansion and market opportunity to guide industry expansion.
Expand the city's Office of Environmental Sustainability to advocate urban agriculture and aquaponics.
The mayor said he expects the recommendations to move forward.
While the IBM report projects optimism, it also offers a reality check.
Milwaukee's expertise in manufacturing helped create one of the most highly skilled manufacturing bases in the world, the report says.
Aquaponics, as an innovation in farming, "may not be the largest supplier of jobs," the report says. "However, we have determined that it will become increasingly important to measure jobs throughout the aquaponics supply chain in order to truly understand the impact of an industry."
An aquaponics farm may employ 40 to 50 people, IBM notes. But if the industry can attract other businesses to the area - fish processors, a post-harvesting facility, or centrally located compost facility - there's additional potential for jobs and economic development.
IBM recommends that the city develop policies to encourage aquaponics growth, including low-cost leases of city-owned property and tax incremental financing to help start-ups. Federal grants also may be available, the report says.
"Building upon the maturing models of aquaponics, Milwaukee has the potential to influence the world food supply," IBM concluded.
"That's what we've been saying for quite a few years," said urban farmer Will Allen, CEO and founder of Growing Power, who has been recognized for his work by the MacArthur Foundation and Time magazine, among others.
"Demand for locally produced food far outpaces the production right now," Allen said. As a nation, "I think we could go beyond the less than 1% local food production where we are now, to about 10% in the next five years. That's a $1 billion change."
Will Allen courts Walmart
Consider the Growing Power model.
The nonprofit farm has about 100 employees, including 70 full time. Allen plans to add 150 more employees in the next three years.
Growing Power produces vegetables on 20 farms and in 50 year-round hoop houses. Those vegetables end up in about 100,000 households in southeastern Wisconsin at least occasionally, including 10,000 households served by the main farm on W. Silver Spring Drive, Allen said.
Last year, Growing Power fed healthy afternoon snacks - sunflower sprouts and pea shoots - to 25,000 students in Milwaukee Public Schools, delivered by Sysco, Allen said.
Sysco also delivers Growing Power vegetables such as peppers and tomatoesto several other school districts in southeastern Wisconsin.
Growing Power is looking for more land on Milwaukee's south side and hopes to gain access to the yards of abandoned MPS schools to expand hoop house production year-round, Allen said.
The nonprofit farm collects 80,000 pounds of food waste each week from 22 Walmart stores in southeastern Wisconsin to compost it and create rich soil for growing more food.
Allen now has his sights set on Walmart's produce sections.
"My goal is to get our food into a specially 'locally grown' section of Walmart stores in southeastern Wisconsin," the urban farmer said.
The Walmart Foundation earlier this month announced a $1.01 million grant to Growing Power to help provide staff training and other support for 20 community food centers in more than 15 states.
2011/9/19, from Jounal Sentinel外電