Good food can be grown in pots, in backyards, or in community gardens, so long as the soil is good. That message was delivered enthusiastically on March 29 at the fourth annual GardenWorks fair at First Christian Church in Minneapolis. Will Allen, founder and director of Growing Power—a non-profit land trust in Milwaukee—spoke to a jam-packed fellowship hall. Many audience members were attending their first GardenWorks fair, and the energy was high. Gardeners and farmers of all ages, including a few children, had gathered to learn about urban agriculture.
“It is all about the soil,” said Allen. “If you grow healthy soil, then you can grow healthy food, which in turn makes healthy communities. You cannot buy compost from a store. Worms and more worms are needed in everything. Take organic material and add red wiggler worms, and you will have healthy soil.”
Worms can be ordered through the mail. Growing Power sells worms through their Web site. Will Allen uses worms to decompose compost that can provide enough heat for his Milwaukee greenhouses during the winter months. On really cold nights, he says, he just covers plants with plastic. According to Allen, worms can multiply four times in eight weeks, and can also kill pathogens—such as E. coli—in the soil. “Treat your worms as if they were your livestock,“ advises Allen.
The best composting mix, according to Allen, is 25% nitrogen and 75% carbon. Nitrogen could come from alfalfa hay, coffee grounds, grass clippings, fresh manure, table scraps, or young weeds. Carbon could come from cardboard, leaves, paper, sawdust, straw, or wood chips. Gardeners need to make a higher volume of compost than they need soil, because compost shrinks 70% from its original size.
Community partnerships can help to produce considerable amounts of compost. Allen has even grown compost on concrete. He says, “You do not need to build a frame to hold the soil in place, but start with a good layer of wood chips. Fungus likes to grow on wood.”
GardenWorks holds an annual fair every March. This year, the fair was free to the public and included a free organic lunch, live music, and 30 exhibitors.