Friday, August 5, 2011

Growing Power Workshop in Bed Stuy, part one

On July 19 and 20, Will Allen and his team from Growing Power came to the Brooklyn Rescue Mission in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, to build their signature urban agriculture system: a greenhouse with a fish tank.  About 30 people came for the workshop.  

Brooklyn Rescue Mission is led by the Reverends DeVanie Jackson and Robert Jackson. "BRM envisions urban farming as the starting point for a self-reliance movement, empowering neighborhood residents to take ownership of their own food supply, nutrition and neighborhood revitalization. BRM endeavors to build community pride, provide healthy provisions to its neediest residents, encourage youth entrepreneurship and develop a communal culture towards land use and community health through an innovative sustainable food system."

This post showcases the work of photojournalist Murray Cox.  Murray is currently living in central Brooklyn and seeking sustainability projects to document.   See his work at, and let him know about potential projects. We appreciate Murray's permission to share his images.

Two carpenters who have been working with Growing Power for years directed attendees through the process.  July 19 was the hottest day of the year, with temperature over 100 F.  It was a little cooler the next day.

Hoop houses start with foundation pipes, hammered several feet deep into the ground at precisely measured intervals.  The frame of the hoop house is made from steel pipe that is light enough to be bent on a carefully designed wooden form called a jig.  Two lengths are bolted together and bent into a hoop.  The hoops are set down on the foundation pipes.

Sturdy wood boards are secured at the ground level, and horizontal pipes and boards connect the hoops.

Next is the construction of a frame for a fish tank and a shallower tank to be mounted above it. 

We shared battery powered drills to create holes for large bolts.

A large piece of thick rubber liner will turn the lower part of the frame into a watertight container suitable for fish. 

The upper tank with a similar liner will contain a layer of gravel and water plants. Water from the fish tank will be pumped up into that tank, where the plants and the bacteria living in the gravel purify the water for return circulation to the fish tank.

You can try this at home - with the guidance of skilled carpenters! The Growing Power method is not very high tech, but still requires serious skills.  Fortunately there are plent of very handy people who can assemble hoop houses and aquaponics tanks.

Next steps for the house would be the addition of plastic roll-down liners that can keep the house warm enough to raise vegetables through the winter, as well as keep the worms and fish comfortable.

The Growing Power method composts food scrap and vegetable waste, then feeds the compost to worms in large industrial size bins.  Worm emulsion, liquid drained from the worm bins, nourishes plants in the hoop house.  See for details.

Click here for the second part of this post, more of Murray's photos of other parts of the process: compost and worm bins.  And some thoughts about how NYC civic groups can learn how to produce real goods and services through sustainability initiatives like this.