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How to feed 10,000 people on 3 urban acres
May 6, 2013 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Will Allen's Growing Power operates urban farms. His first Milwaukee farm is three urban acres where he grows enough food to feed 10,000 people. An interview by the Splendid Table's Lynne Rossetto Kasper in support of his new book. Previously.
posted by shothotbot (39 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
three urban acres where he grows enough food to feed 10,000 people.

See, I'm unclear what this means. If the claim is 'enough food to provide the yearly caloric needs of 10,000 people' I'm going to have to say nonsense. If the claim is 'enough food to provide supplemental greens to 10,000 people' then that's more believable.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:12 AM on May 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Ah, from the surprisingly informative comments: "Well, let's see...FDA recommends roughly a pound a day per person. 40 tons of food is 80,000 pounds...divide by 365 days, you get about 219 people fed per day for a year. But I think they're saying that 10,000 people EAT their food, not that they derive their entire caloric intake from the farm."
posted by leotrotsky at 7:13 AM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I found this diagram and description really helpful in understanding what they actually grow. It's really a lot, very diverse, and very efficiently in a very small space.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:26 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Empty windows sills strike me as a tragic waste. That light traveled a long way to visit you! Do something with it. What kind of host are you?
posted by srboisvert at 8:02 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see something positive in that neighborhood - there is a LOT of poverty and violence nearby. Pretty much every day there are shots fired within a half-mile of that place. I hope more neighborhood residents are able to play a role in this; I was surprised to see that the video was overwhelmingly white people.
posted by desjardins at 8:12 AM on May 6, 2013


(I am referring to the Milwaukee headquarters - street view)
posted by desjardins at 8:13 AM on May 6, 2013


Will Allen is just a straight-up awesome dude. The location of the first Growing Power farm is one that has been awaiting new employment opportunities, community building, and revitalization since forever.

Here's a story about his MacArthur Genius Grant win in 2008.
More in-depth NYT article on the same.

Growing Power opened a market/cafe in a similarly economically depressed area of Milwaukee last summer. Their neighborhood has been touted as being on the razor's edge of renewal and revitalization for years, due to its immediate proximity to the heart of downtown, but I've only seen small movements toward progress, and they've come slowly. The utter lack of surrounding healthy, growing businesses makes me worry a bit for the market/cafe's longevity -- yes, it's filled out a sparkly new building, but its neighbors are mostly empty sparkly new buildings, and it's only open from 7 AM to 4 PM -- but I think it's a beautiful addition to the neighborhood and I hope it stays there for a long while.

They also offer market basket delivery in Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago -- it's a really great program for folks who want locally-grown, market-quality produce, but can't/don't want to do all the shopping themselves. The baskets are also AMAZINGLY inexpensive for the amount of food that you get -- a regular basket, which is meant to provide fresh fruit and veg for 2-4 people for a week, costs $16. And for the gardeners in the house -- GP compost and vermicompost are top notch!

If you ever visit Growing Power HQ, make sure to swing by the nearby Havenwoods State Forest, the only urban state forest in Wisconsin. They have great trails for hiking and geocaching, and fantastic teaching and rental gardens during the growing season.

(Sorry, I'm really enthused about urban farming, especially in Milwaukee. Thanks for the post!)
posted by divined by radio at 8:29 AM on May 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


If they got rid of the parking lot (which seems to take up half of the land) they could feed another 10,000.
posted by three blind mice at 8:31 AM on May 6, 2013


If you look at the place in satellite/street view, the parking lot does not seem to take up half the land. And anyway, farms need places for delivery trucks, piles of compost, etc. Just because it's not being used directly to grow food doesn't mean it doesn't have a role in the food that's grown.
posted by rtha at 8:53 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


The parking lot to the east of Growing Power doesn't belong to them; GP only has parking available on the street. All the parking lots you see in the overhead view belong to the sprawling U.S. Army Reserve center next door.
posted by divined by radio at 8:54 AM on May 6, 2013


grown in 3 acres

1) Growing Power could not exist if the 3 acres and buildings were taxed at the normal rate for buildings/land.
2) That 3 acres uses natural gas for greenhouse heating (not within the 3 acres), electricity for the water pumps (another external energy source, and then there is:
3) organic matter is imported. The grain growing plains of, say, North Dakota, are using fossil water to grow grain that is used to brew beer and some of that the waste grain is shipped to that 3 acres. How many acres of land and energy were used to get that grain to Milwaukee then to Will's operation?

vermicompost

Last I knew Will didn't know the various specious of worms in his vemipost operation. One of them is an Asian species Perionyx excavatus that dies below 45 deg and you can see one of 'em in that hand-held worm ball.

From that page:
Red Earthworms (Lumbricus rubellus). Red worms are often found in soils rich with organic materials in Europe and North America. These species prefer living in compost piles
No self respecting Lub. Rubellus would exist in a compost pile. A leaf pile, yes as they prefer fungi VS bacteria. But bacteria should dominate the brewery grain piles shown behind the greenhouses.

(Phun Phackt - the IRS has special rules - try to deduct earthworms for making vermipost WRT tax deductions for worms. You can't. Go ahead. Try an create a vemipost production operation and write off your worm expenses. )
posted by rough ashlar at 9:08 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


rough ashlar: So you're saying he's a fraud? Or what?
posted by R. Schlock at 9:22 AM on May 6, 2013


I just experienced a weird shift of reality. For years now I was 100% convinced that the name of the host of Splendid Table was Lynne Rosette O'Casper.

For some reason this is throwing me off way more than it probably should... is 10 am Monday morning too early for a stiff drink?
posted by Hairy Lobster at 9:55 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm genuinely curious, rough ashlar -- have you taken a tour or volunteered at Growing Power, or directly interacted with Will Allen? If not, it might be a bit premature to dismiss what he's doing as environmentally and fiscally irresponsible -- do you really believe he's doing more harm than good? Everyone I know who's involved in urban agriculture around here holds him in extremely high regard. If you haven't visited, you can also read reviews by people who have.

At the GP farm tours, they can provide answers to your questions and are ready, willing, and able to explain in great detail exactly what they're doing, as well as why and how it's sustainable (versus someplace like Sweet Water Organics, which... yeah, no).
FWIW, Growing Power does not get their energy from an external source, they get it from a 10.8 kW solar electric system and a solar water heating system [source - PDF, page 8], and the greenhouses are heated by compost [source - PDF, page 18] and aquaponics [source], not natural gas. "During the coldest winter days, the temperature at the center of the 4-foot-high piles of compost can reach 150 degrees, enough to heat the entire greenhouse where the compost is housed." I can personally attest that their greenhouses can be absolutely sweltering in mid-January.

While I can't claim a whit of knowledge of w/r/t earthworm species, let alone identify them by sight, all I know is that GP sells vermicompost kits equipped with Eisenia foetida, I've seen a zillion vermicomposting kits and sites that specifically recommend Lumbricus rubellus, and the worm castings they make and sell at GP have been absolutely fantastic for my garden, year after year. GP might not be perfect, but they've been on the forefront of the expansion of urban agriculture for almost 15 years, and I love what they've done for our city.
posted by divined by radio at 9:55 AM on May 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


rough ashler, I'm having trouble reading a subtext to your comment that says "GP is a good start, and here's how to make it better." What WOULD make it better, given the issues you've raised here? Or are you just "debunking the claim?"

I'm not a fan of saying audacious things like "we can feed 10,000 people with three city acres," for the reasons that rough ashler posts above. It attracts a critical analysis of the claims rather than putting good minds to work on the problem of making it more functional and better. I know Will's work and it's visionary and also very grounded. AND people who fund and support these kinds of things like to have the story that it's a miracle cure for urban hunger and food deserts. As someone who works almost exclusively in the non-profit world, I see it happen all the time, where organizations begin uncritically believing the hype that funders force the to use. And the funders force it because "I have to tell my Board that our $100,000 investment in your project resulted in a 37% decrease in childhood obesity. I can't tell them that your funded three experiments that failed." But of course, no one injection of cash can have such a clear cause and effect relationship to outcomes. But funders are very bad at funding prototypes and failures, and they want that success story and organizations have to provide it and at the end of the day, it makes for decent copy on the website.

Now i KNOW that what is going on at Growing Power is not a constant refining of the message to attract more grant funding. This is a serious operation that has been iterating solutions through trial and error, good planning and big mistakes for a number of years now. Don't let the unsubstantiated hype - a product of a psychotic funding model - distract you from what is actually happening on the ground there.
posted by salishsea at 10:01 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


All battles on the Internet are, fundamentally, battles about who is the greater pedant.
posted by aramaic at 10:47 AM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I feel like in this thread and another recent thread, people have expressed an odd idea that farm produce is, in the end, somehow calorically insubstantial. Well...not everything on a farm is leafy greens. How about beans, potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, avocado? If you had a source of cooking oil you could otherwise eat solely off a production farm in a way that's filling and well-balanced. (And personally I think it would be disingenuous to claim that a dish made out of multiple pounds of farm vegetables and a few chugs of olive oil is "primarily not eating from the farm" because of the caloric ratio, but others may beg to differ.)
posted by threeants at 10:50 AM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


If the claim is 'enough food to provide the yearly caloric needs of 10,000 people

Yeah, does anyone (pedant or otherwise) have reputable and accessible links in terms of what metrics are coming out of attempts at urban farming?

I've seen roof planters, hydroponics, wierd multi-floor menageries of pots, etc, etc...but I have not seen anything that has proven a substantive dense-lot calorie producer.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:00 PM on May 6, 2013


Yeah, does anyone (pedant or otherwise) have reputable and accessible links in terms of what metrics are coming out of attempts at urban farming?

Honestly, that was one of the reasons I posted this. Taking a derelict greenhouses and creating jobs and healthy food in the "food desert" would be impressive enough. No reason to exaggerate. I could not get my mind around his claim and was hoping someone knew the deal.
posted by shothotbot at 12:10 PM on May 6, 2013


Imma go ahead and pull this handy-dandy Sword of Pedants from this nice big rock over here and point out that this -- organic matter is imported. The grain growing plains of, say, North Dakota, are using fossil water to grow grain that is used to brew beer and some of that the waste grain is shipped to that 3 acres. -- is patently false.

How many acres of land and energy were used to get that grain to Milwaukee then to Will's operation?
I'm not sure how many acres of land were used or how much energy was spent *growing* the grain that was used to brew the beer that resulted in there being thousands of tons of stuff that would normally get dumped in a landfill, but the spent grain composted at Growing Power actually comes from breweries that operate within the city of Milwaukee.

Far from requiring grains to be grown, used, and then trucked in from North Dakota (?), old M'waukee has, uh, quite a few breweries of its own. More than a couple of local brewers -- Lakefront and Milwaukee Brewing Company are the first two that come to mind -- openly advertise the fact that they bring their spent grain to Growing Power for composting. Lakefront alone says that they truck in upwards of 10,000 pounds of spent mash every week.
There are also a number of local businesses (Kohl's and Outpost Co-op, for example) that collect their compostable food waste and bring it to GP, not to mention local coffee roasters like Alterra and Stone Creek, who collect and bring in their spent grounds as well. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel donates their unsold newspapers to GP for composting, too. All of this information is on Growing Power's compost page, and I've been reading about it in all kinds of local media for years because I am nothing if not an unrepentant hippie who inexplicably lives in a major urban area. I guess you could just say that all those businesses are lying, but I feel like it would take a whole lot of long-term conspiring to get to that point.

Insofar as the "feeds 10,000 people" claim is concerned, all I know is that GP makes a LOT of food (most sources I've seen estimate ~100,000 pounds of vegetables are grown there per year, not sure about numbers when it comes to their production of market-ready fish/eggs/honey/meat/other edibles; anecdotally, Will Allen has claimed that over 1,000,000 pounds of "food" is produced by GP each year, though I'm not sure what the catch-all term "food" specifically entails in this instance).
I suspect that the nice, even 10k figure was likely pounced upon for happy funtime donor-attracting reasons that salishsea outlined above. Advertising figures like that without any hard sources to back them up is certainly a valid cause for concern, but a lot of times, initial queries of this nature can start down a slippery slope of perfect becoming the enemy of the good. And I am a firm believer that GP's mission, community contributions, and overall output are inherently good.

Growing Power is a hyper-local organization in a pretty damn unexpected locale. Nearly every aspect of their operation is specifically and pointedly supportive of local citizens and businesses, which is (IMO) just another facet of what makes it so rad.

Here's a really interesting paper on the topic!
posted by divined by radio at 12:27 PM on May 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


Some real numbers. Let's just focus on caloric needs, because it's simpler.

Cattails produce an unearthly amount of calories per acre - up to 10x as much as potatoes. The yield is estimated at 32 tons of dry flour per acre, and at 266 kcal/100 g of flour, that yields 29e6 grams * .266 = 7.7e6 kcal/acre. Let's use the easy standard of 2,000 kcal/person/day, and so we have one acre feeding 3,850 people for a day, or 10.5 people per year.

That from a hardy, native wetlands plant reknowned for its high land-to-food conversion.

No damn way more than about 100 people are going to be fed on 3 self-sufficient acres, period. 10,000 is too high by two orders of magnitude, at a minimum.

Now, if you creatively redefine "fed by three acres", and stacked the acres with boxed vegetables instead of growing plants, you could probably manage it.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:05 PM on May 6, 2013


organic matter is imported. The grain growing plains of, say, North Dakota, are using fossil water to grow grain that is used to brew beer and some of that the waste grain is shipped to that 3 acres. -- is patently false.

Do go on, show how the organic matter is not imported unto the 3 acre (or unto the farm land not on the 3 acre plot) is not 'imported onto the land'.

Lakefront alone says that they truck in upwards of 10,000 pounds of spent mash every week.

And here the readers of Metafilter were going to be shown how the the importation of organic matter unto the Growing Power land didn't happen. I believe it was pitched as showing how it was "patently false".

Lets look further at the claims made - "How to feed 10,000 people on 3 acres" as we've now established that the 3 acres needs importation of multi-ton lots of organic material (per week if one accepts your position as true) so that 3 acres needs many acres of support.

As their own web page admits, Growing power has acreage outside of the 3 acres. Thus the ignorant of photosynthesis and land might think that the 3 acres within the city boundaries are the source for all I know is that GP makes a LOT of food (most sources I've seen estimate ~100,000 pounds of vegetables are grown there per year Such volume claims are not made by Mittleider Method Gardening followers or even the http://bionutrient.org/ people. (hear about bionutrient founder here) The 10,000 people/3 acres figure just isn't correct unless by "feeding 10,000" one means that some got very few meals from the operation.

100,000 pounds on 3 acres - acres that house a small animal lot and gravel parking? (gravel parking* - what other business operations are allowed gravel parking within the City of Milwaukee) Such implied production rates are just not credible for that level of solar influx on 3 acres.

*My memory may be off on the gravel parking. It could have been improved from years ago



(and I'll note how no one has addressed the tax advantages of being a non-profit plays into this little experiment. How much feeding would be going on if the land and buildings were subjected to the typical tax rates for their location and sq feet of structure. Growing power is able to exist only because of its special Non-Profit status along with people who give of their labor at a $0 rate. That tax status and $0 labor is an important part of the "how to feed 10,000 on 3 acres" along with getting $0 cost inputs isn't it? But that is part of the wonder of how screwed up the American system is - doing the right thing and closing the nutrient cycle can only happen if one has free labor and the taxing load is removed.)
posted by rough ashlar at 2:19 PM on May 6, 2013


That from a hardy, native wetlands plant reknowned for its high land-to-food conversion.

And that land takes a nutritive load and concentrates it.

Cattails yield on just a wet spot should be far less.
posted by rough ashlar at 2:27 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


rough ashlar: So you're saying he's a fraud?

Mr Allen a fraud? Not at all.

But the framing of "feed 10,000 people on 3 urban acres" leads to people not understanding the realities and one gets 'get rid of the parking lot and feed 10,000 more'. And the lack of a tax load along with getting some 'free' inputs change what happens.

And not everyone is Clive Edwards.

Any 'misrepresentation' is what is considered acceptable in 'public relations' in modern America, is it not?
posted by rough ashlar at 2:47 PM on May 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


What WOULD make it better, given the issues you've raised here? .... putting good minds to work on the problem of making it more functional and better.

Be sure to tell the story of closing the nutrient cycle. Edo Japan would be close with its Night Soil - but that society imported fish from the ocean.

Explaining what the tax load and $0 inputs would really cost if the operation had to function like other farms operations.

And finally - the original purpose was to 'help at-risk youth'. Now its coded as C30 (Natural Resource Conservation and Protection) by the IRS. That original purpose hasn't been told - or I've not seen that part of the story.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:08 PM on May 6, 2013


I've seen a zillion vermicomposting kits and sites that specifically recommend Lumbricus rubellus, and the worm castings they make and sell at GP have been absolutely fantastic for my garden, year after year.

And I've seen someone claim that LR's increase yield 25% - yup the only variable being addition of a worm and a 25% YIELD INCREASE.

Doesn't mean it is true.

Either the yield or LR's being "best" or even able to survive in a non-fungal dominated leaf pile.

Clive Edwards or Bill Kreitzer would be subject matter experts on LR's
posted by rough ashlar at 3:33 PM on May 6, 2013


organic matter is imported. The grain growing plains of, say, North Dakota, are using fossil water to grow grain that is used to brew beer and some of that the waste grain is shipped to that 3 acres. -- is patently false.
Do go on, show how the organic matter is not imported unto the 3 acre (or unto the farm land not on the 3 acre plot) is not 'imported onto the land'.

Do go on, show how you specified that by "imported" you actually meant "imported onto the land," as in, "transported from anywhere except on-site," rather than imported from out of state. If you didn't mean imported from out of state, why else would you mention the "great growing plains of, say, North Dakota," or specifically state that spent grain was shipped from places like North Dakota (after being irrigated with fossil water, no less) to Wisconsin in order to be used to make compost at Growing Power? There's where the "patently false" thing comes in.

Lakefront alone says that they truck in upwards of 10,000 pounds of spent mash every week.
And here the readers of Metafilter were going to be shown how the the importation of organic matter unto the Growing Power land didn't happen. I believe it was pitched as showing how it was "patently false".

Again, what you wrote was that grain was being imported from places like North Dakota in order to be used at Growing Power. That's what you wrote, and that's what I was responding to when I showed that what you wrote was "patently false."

I understand that you're apparently not local and yet remain deeply vested in rooting out what you seem to view as unbridled dishonesty in Growing Power's claims -- really, I do. Go ahead and pick apart every little nuance, prove that you're right, and show Growing Power that they could learn a thing or two from you. I won't stand in the way of your rhetorical bulldozer.
posted by divined by radio at 3:36 PM on May 6, 2013


I'm bewildered by the determination to prove this enterprise somehow nefarious.
posted by salishsea at 9:44 PM on May 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


I appreciate the work done by these sorts of organizations. What I don't appreciate--what I think is actually harmful--is that this enthusiasm often segues into the idea that this fully justifies single-family large-lot housing, and that we (as the government) are therefore justified in forbidding anything more dense.

As a hobby, it's great. As a way to engage with members of the community, it's great. As a serious approach to food and energy security in America today, it's not just misguided-- it's a dangerous distraction.
posted by alexei at 1:15 AM on May 7, 2013


As a serious approach to food and energy security in America today

Energy security is beyond the scope of this FPP but the food system already gets Federal support for certain crops. (see king corn as an example discussion) The King Corn movie shows how the only way to make a profit in the normal farm system is to be under the protection of the Government. And the below income/expense statements should get The Blue Libertarians out in force with a standard song/dance routine about Government protections lead to profits - but they have a firmer believe and better routine to make that pitch, and tie it to food security.

And the resulting, say, corn from the present system?
• Organic corn has 14 ppm of manganese. GMO corn has only 2 ppm.
• Real corn has 7 times more manganese!
• Organic corn has 6130 ppm of calcium. GMO is stripped down to 14 ppm.
• Real corn has 437 times more calcium!
• Organic corn has 113 ppm of magnesium. GMO corn is vacant, with only 2 ppm.
• Real corn has 56 times more magnesium!


I'm bewildered by the determination to prove this enterprise somehow nefarious.

Everything being done is within the law. Its only nefarious if you think figuring out a way to avoid the tax load and avoid local rules that would be imposed if a regular citizen did it. What would be the rules and regs for a normal commercial establishment was to import solid waste unto the property and process that solid waste? Can Keller's import spent grain and compost it on their urban site? Remeber that the IRS doesn't allow for deductions for 'worm farming' - its a special non-exemption case. So labor and equipment to make vemipost to sell would not be deductible under IRS rule due to the worm frauds of the 1970's.


Being legal is "profitable". Growing Power brought in 9.7 mil in 2011 and spent 4.0 mil. But anyone can sign up to guidestar and see that there were only 2 highly paid people on the IRS form - Mr. Allen at $149K and the bookkeeper at $48K. The form listed some $2 mil in salaries and other compensation - divide by how many workers it was in 2011.

Anyone can go look at the numbers reported to the IRS.
posted by rough ashlar at 9:56 AM on May 7, 2013


This is pretty damn far from a hill I'm willing to die on, but it's a topic that's close to my heart because it's very close to my home and #1 passion in life (gardening) so I wanted to chime in one last time because I find the proliferation of wholly unsourced, "take my word for it, chump!"-esque assertions to be a pox on civil discussion. Apologies in advance for the length.
At the risk of sounding like a total whinger, MetaFilter usually does better than this -- indeed, facts are often supported by linked verifiable proof, as well as occasional admissions of doubt/ignorance when applicable. It would be a much less interesting forum if everyone just kept doubling down, insisting they're right because they're right because they just are so shut up.

RA, you seem to be doing some pretty serious goalpost moving in this thread, and unfortunately, it's not coming across like the fount of peerless wisdom you seem to think it is. It just seems... I don't know, bitter? Or like you have a longstanding grudge against the very basis of the FPP, possibly even Will Allen himself?
The whole uber-GRAR schtick feels a lot like when someone makes an FPP about a band they like and another poster comments a half-dozen times just to tell everyone how much they hate that band, and how other musicians are so much better. In all earnestness, RA, you could make your own FPP about The Right Way to Do Urban Agriculture -- truly I'd love to read it, stuff like this is fascinating. You seem to have a particular passion for worms, which is extra-neat.

Now, we don't know each other from Adam or Eve, but you still felt the need to specifically dismiss me as being "ignorant of photosynthesis and land" just because I said, basically, "here's what I've heard, and here's what I've observed!" If someone tinkled in your cornflakes this morning, I can assure you that it was not me.
I'm not a farmer, just an enthusiast, but I'm not too sure that the best way to get dim sheeple to respect your authority on a given topic involves accusing internet strangers of being ignorant because you disagree with them. How does the saying go? You get more flies with locally-sourced compostable materials...? You've gone off on multiple tangents using random bits of what amounts to hearsay, expecting the rest of us would do well to doff our caps to your superior knowledge -- but you've repeatedly spouted misinformation, which doesn't do a lot to help your cause.

First, you falsely claimed that Growing Power's "3 acres uses natural gas for greenhouse heating (not within the 3 acres), electricity for the water pumps (another external energy source)."
I disproved your claim using sources that show GP's heating is actually provided by in-house solar and composting systems. You ignored that information and moved on to trying to poke semantic holes in another facet of the topic.

After that, another false claim in the same post: You wrote that Growing Power's "organic matter is imported. The grain growing plains of, say, North Dakota, are using fossil water to grow grain that is used to brew beer and some of that the waste grain is shipped to that 3 acres. How many acres of land and energy were used to get that grain to Milwaukee then to Will's operation?"
Again, I disproved all parts of this claim -- in particular the part where you stated that fossil water-irrigated grain was being trucked in from thousands of miles away in order to be composted at Growing Power, wasting land and energy "to get that grain to Milwaukee then" to Growing Power. Again, you ignored the information showing that all compostables used at GP actually come from within Milwaukee. You may think it would be more beneficial to everyone if the local businesses who currently truck their waste products a few miles to Growing Power for composting should instead return to trucking it to the landfill -- a bit weird, IMO, but it takes all kinds.

Rather than addressing any part of my rebuttal, you inexplicably chose to insist that by "imported" you actually meant "brought in from anywhere outside the confines of Growing Power's 3-acre lot," pretending as though you never made a point about North Dakota and long-distance waste product trucking, then all but crowed that I was utterly wrong on the merits. After that smug little drive-by, you moved the goalposts again -- onto pontificating about Asian earthworms and the nutritional density of cattails and taxes and gravel parking lots and libertarians and the IRS and Keller's (? is this a business in Milwaukee?) and government subsidies and worm fraud (!) and... GMO corn? Pretty far afield from the original topic, no pun, etc..

So I'll say it outright: I've done a lot of 100% non-professional research on this topic over the years, and have personally never seen hard, verifiable numbers on Growing Power's annual output, but I am an amateur who does not work in the field, only someone who sees the positive effects GP has on my community as well as how much awesome produce they provide to my neighbors, local restaurants, mom & pop grocers, local food events, underserved populations, and farmers' markets.
I've also seen many food-providing NPOs (food banks, soup kitchens, etc.) advertise how many people they feed each year, but I've never seen them taken to task quite like this for not clarifying that each of those people did not have their full caloric intake provided exclusively by the advertising organization.

rough ashlar, you obviously have a great deal of knowledge on this topic, which I'd honestly love to learn about (as well as find out how/where you learned it, 'cause I want me some of that sweet sweet information), but my friend, you're framing this all like an argument, and it ain't.
Overall, your approach just gives me the impression that you're pulling a string of well, actuallys instead of intelligently holding forth on the topic at hand. Why? What's the deal?
posted by divined by radio at 11:51 AM on May 7, 2013


rough ashlar, that bit about a GMO vs non-GMO corn nutritional comparison? It's crap. The actual data source is soil analysis data of an unknown number of fields managed in unknown conditions. And that's only if the claimed underlying provenance is true which would still say nothing about GMO vs non-GMO ag. If you look at the originating table that is generating these stories -- Moms Across America is as far as I know the first group to claim it was nutritional analysis rather than soil -- you'll see oddities like the GMO corn having 2 ppm carbon but 14 ppm calcium. Please show me any plant (food or otherwise) that would have so little carbon in it. Your link has nothing to do with nutritional content at all and is probably meaningless for comparing GMO vs non-GMO agriculture. Such comparisons have to be done very carefully to remove confounding factors. If you actually check google scholar, will find that real studies published in real peer reviewed journals do not show significant differences in nutritional content when comparing the same cultivars of corn with and without a particular transgene.
posted by R343L at 12:09 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


Rather than addressing any part of my rebuttal

At the point where you stated:
Again, what you wrote was that grain was being imported from places like North Dakota in order to be used at Growing Power. when what was actually written was:
organic matter is imported. The grain growing plains of, say, North Dakota, are using fossil water to grow grain that is used to brew beer and some of that the waste grain is shipped to that 3 acres. How many acres of land and energy were used to get that grain to Milwaukee then to Will's operation?

At the point where what I said and is obvious to anyone still reading the thread is not correct -:

1) Why spend time responding if you just make up shit
2) I believe according to Metafilter tradition your position is now in metatalk territory.


Alexi at 1:15 brings up a fine talking point - how food is obtained in the US of A. Farms growing corn/soy and even Growing Power existing off of he kindness of government/others is a topic worth discussing. Without the spent organic material from other operation (breweries as an example) how can "organic" operations exist?
posted by rough ashlar at 12:27 PM on May 7, 2013


rough ashlar, that bit about a GMO vs non-GMO corn nutritional comparison? It's crap.

Well, to be fair to the post - it was ORGANIC non GMO vs GMO. The lack of minerals cited I'd look to depleted soils VS the humic acid of compost + perhaps rock dist additions in the "organic" version (see the biogrowing link I cited above).

The differences between organic (4 VS 9 on the veggie code in the store) can be minimal.

And under the Alexi "lets talk about food policy" I present:
According to a new study, the ‘Cry’ toxins that Monsanto’s GMO crops have been genetically modified to produce are a lot more toxic to mammals than previously thought, primarily to the blood.

(perhaps the FPP cop on non-response here in this FPP will chime in and ask about not addressing glycopospate)
posted by rough ashlar at 12:42 PM on May 7, 2013


OK, I... literally don't know what you are talking about at this point. Your syntax is seriously garbled -- "At the point where what I said and is obvious to anyone still reading the thread is not correct" = ??? -- and you clearly aren't intending to provide any sort of proof for your baseless assertions, instead choosing to call me a liar and then tell me to take it to MetaTalk.

See, I was trying to give you the benefit of the doubt because this is an interesting topic, and I was honestly hoping you could back up your puffery with anything even vaguely resembling a verifiable fact, but now I can rest safe in the knowledge that you know even less about this than I do, and Will Allen can go on haughtily committing worm fraud and covering his land with gravel and North Dakotan grain while continuing to grow fat off of our tax dollars. Everyone wins!
posted by divined by radio at 12:45 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter what kinds of crops / systems it's comparing. The claim that it's "nutritional" data is completely and obviously incorrect (unless you eat soil). It's also meaningless as soil data since it's only two sets of fields with no control for inputs or cultivars. Citing that data adds nothing to a discussion about the effectiveness or value of different agricultural systems.

Your followup link is to an article in an OMICS journal (and this is its first issue!) which frankly are basically scammy crap journals preying on desperate scientists. They do little real peer review and solicit editors and reviewers not competent in the fields requested. In any case, the paper contradicts many other studies on the safety of Bt toxins that have been done for (quite literally) decades. There's probably a reason it's in a brand-new OMICS journal and not a respected hematology, toxicity or medical journal. If you look at their data tables, many of the results are not p<0.05 which is a pretty lose standard for something that contradicts reams of other data (and have some pretty odd choices -- why are some of the groups combinations only kept around for 24h?). The experimental design also appears to fail at having proper controls. The only mention of sample size is in the methods which says six animals per group which means only six control animals to many, many other experimental groups (since there were so many combinations of different Bt proteins fed). The odds of finding some significant difference between control and some subset of experimental groups is high, even if only by random chance.
posted by R343L at 1:50 PM on May 7, 2013


The claim that it's "nutritional" data is completely and obviously incorrect

Is the actual PPM claimed not factual, or just that citing PPM isn't "nutritional" data?

In any case, the paper contradicts many other studies on the safety of Bt toxins that have been done for (quite literally) decades.

BT in plants hasn't been part of the food supply for decades. Hopefully others will have studies on BT added to plants food supplies. (and given how BT resistant worms are already in the wild the reasons for BT in plants may fade in a decade anyway)
posted by rough ashlar at 2:20 PM on May 7, 2013


It's right there in the post that they are claiming this data is nutritional: "The Corn Comparison Report detailed the nutritional deficiencies of GMO corn compared to regular organic corn." The data however are clearly soil analysis results so it's just wrong. As I noted previously, it also doesn't even say much about GMO vs organic practices since it's only one pair of fields with a completely undefined set of conditions.

As for Bt, no, actually we have been eating it for a long time. We've done so intentionally since the 50s or before as a pesticide application (it's so safe it can be applied right before harvest, unlike many other pesticides). Even before that, we've probably been eating it since we first pulled crops out of the ground because Bt toxins come from soil bacteria and people don't always wash all the dirt off. Bt is not new. It's such a great pesticide precisely because it has no effects in humans. Since Bt toxins are proteins, they are broken down in the gut into basic amino acids like other proteins. There have been no cases of allergenic reactions as far as I know. Each Bt protein (called "Cry" with a code) only affects very specific insect groups. In a susceptible insect, the protein reacts with parts of certain gut cells, causing a fissure in the insect's gut to form which kills it. We don't have those kinds of cells in our guts, so they can't affect us in the same way (or indeed any mammals).
posted by R343L at 2:33 PM on May 7, 2013


Oh, as an aside, in the overwhelming majority of uses of Bt genes in current crops, you can't even detect the Bt proteins in finished products. The only current crop you're likely to eat an intact Bt protein expressed via a transgene is in Bt sweet corn which has only been available for on commercial markets since last year (and the amount of expressed Bt proteins as a percentage of total protein is tiny). Other uses such as in corn chips or tortillas have no detectable Cry proteins in finished products (see EPA pesticide approval documents for Bt corn). It probably means we are still eating some transgene-expressed Cry proteins, but not nearly so much as you think. Highly refined products like oils, sugars, citric acid, etc typically have no detectable proteins of any kind.
posted by R343L at 2:40 PM on May 7, 2013


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