Near 60th and Silver Spring stands Milwaukee County’s only farm. From the road, you see a modest farm stand, a few greenhouses, and a wooden building with solar pannels. It’s not a flashy place, but many have noticed. Michael Pollan and other important foodies are very familiar with Allen’s work to revolutionize the food industry by growing food in urban settings. Allen has championed affordable local food for urban dwellers with the business he calls Growing Power. Pollan named Will Allen one of the 7 most important foodies in the world. Allen is too busy to put on a suit and sit before a microphone touting his vision for a world where fresh food is locally available for all. Most days you’ll find him at one of his farm projects, often showing off his famous red-worm compost while he works.
Will Allen’s influence and has extended to other urban settings including Chicago. First Lady, Michelle Obama visited a Growing Power farm on October 25th with Mayor Emanuel. Mrs. Obama and Mayor Emanuel came for a tour of Iron Street Urban Farm after holding a press conference at a Walgreens in Chicago’s Chatham community, located on the City’s south side. The Chatham Walgreens and 19 others in the city will start offering vegetables and other fresh food in communities that lack fresh and healthy food options. This represents the end of an urban food desert. In her continued efforts to address and fight childhood obesity and food insecurity, the First Lady came to Iron Street to see how Growing Power and the local community have been working towards producing healthy and sustainably grown food in urban environments.
Allen’s network of urban farms have been feeding urban dwellers and working to connect people to their own ability to grow food. Growing Power has reinvigorated the concept of the home vegetable garden. Growing Power is not just a farm but also a training center, where thousands of people of all ages and background have come to learn how to create their own community food centers and to provide food security to those who have limited access to fresh foods. His aquaponics system made of low-cost plywood and PVC pipe spawned hundreds of growing aquaponic projects including Milwaukee’s Sweet Water Organics.
Will Allen, founder and CEO, Growing Power, Inc (a national non-profit organization)
Will Allen started life as the youngest son of a South Carolina sharecropper and worked the farm as soon as he could toddle down the rows of vegetables. Having food meant that Allen never felt poor; he felt empowered. After successful careers in professional basketball and corporate marketing, he applies passion and a lifetime of knowledge to the problems of urban poverty and malnutrition. Through Growing Power, Milwaukee’s only urban farm, he has created an international model for intensive urban agriculture and community food systems. In 2010 he was named by Time Magazine one of the 100 people who most affect our world. In 2008 he awarded a $500,000 “genius grant” through the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.
Passion and vision for the future
Growing Power is undertaking something that has never been done before. In Milwaukee, the Mayor and City Council supports a proposed vertical farm building. The council has passed the project through the zoning requirements for Growing Power to build the five- story vertical farm, which is located five blocks from the largest housing project in the city of Milwaukee. With the zoning approved, Growing Power is now raising capital.