Malcolm McDowell Woods
From the editor

Praising dreamers

By - Jul 1st, 2009 12:01 am

Malcolm McDowell Woods

I had a friend who was a combination dreamer, tinkerer and collector. When friends and I visited his home, we often shook our heads in amazement at the things he had acquired since the last visit – things purchased at rummage sales, found on the side of the road or bartered for – junk, most of it, or so it seemed to us.

We were incredulous when he announced years ago that he would build his family a house by purchasing and moving two small ranch homes slated for demolition and joining them together to create a lovely home on land he owned. But he did it.

Turned out some of his ideas actually worked, and most of the stuff he collected wasn’t really junk.

Which is why we were only slightly skeptical years ago when he announced that he was going to farm fish. He was an idea guy, after all, but this seemed a bit beyond the ken. For starters, his land was not on a waterway. With no river or lake, where would he keep the fish?

But my friend had an answer and a plan. He studied up on the then-infant micro-aquaculture movement, e-mailing other pioneers, and slowly building a fish farm from discarded above-ground swimming pools in his barn.

His friends followed his progress in wonder, and any visit to his house had to include a trip to the barn, to see the thousands of growing tilapia. What he built was amazing. A Rube Goldberg contraption of swimming pools, hoses, filters, pumps and channels running the length of the barn that doubled as beds for tomato plants and other vegetables. All assembled from the “junk” he steadily collected.

Health got in my friend’s way. A serious illness forced him to give up the fish venture before seeing it through to completion and not long after that his heart full of dreams suddenly gave up on him. But I like to think that had he remained in good health, we’d all be eating his tilapia and tomatoes today. And that he’d probably have built a chicken coop alongside that barn by now.

I thought of him today as I read our story about Sweet Water Organics, a pioneering effort to grow tilapia and perch in a once-abandoned factory on Milwaukee’s near south side. The company’s founders were inspired by the success of the fish farm at Will Allen’s Growing Power and the system they are creating sounds quiet similar in concept to my friend’s barn.

Thank goodness for people like them.

Pioneers. Dreamers. Idea people. Idealists.

In fits and starts, in great successes and blinding failures both, they move us all forward.

We can farm fish in the middle of a city. We can raise chickens in our yards and grow vegetables on rooftop gardens.

We just need those dreamers to show us the way.

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