Three Great NYT Articles Suggest Michelle & Family Meet Big Will Allen at Growing Power
The first, is an op-ed written by Michael Pollan in 1991 that recommends removing the White House lawn and suggests various replacements- including a garden. (Oh, the things a change in administration could bring!)
The second, is on the idea of America being in the midst of a food revolution (yes, it features photos and quotes from the comfood lady du jour)
The third, questions whether eating well means eating organic.
And one more for good measure.
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Review of Food not Lawns by Jesus’s General
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Raise Chickens in the City!
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Community Gardening on Public Housing Properties:
Where, Who, How, Why and Why Not?
A Master Thesis by Leslie Provence
Click here for the pdf
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Chicago Rooftop Organic Garden/Restaurant: Uncommon Ground
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Alice Waters Is One Of Us
Each of us should be known for what we actually do rather than what we say, especially if what we say is being filtered through the media with its agenda. Through that lens, I don’t see how anyone can criticize Alice Waters. She has done amazingly generous acts throughout her career and spoken truth to power on many occasions. Her insight into how to civilize a generation of children through food is worth reading again and again. We could all benefit from a little more civility in this particular moment.
Despite the intelligence and analysis of some of your comments here, it is so frustrating to me to witness how we in the social activist world and non-profit world manage to eat our own on a regular basis.
Have you considered that the anger and vitriol expressed on this issue may be misplaced? Rather than feeling so angry with Alice about how her portrayal of the local, sustainable food movement played out with this round on 60 Minutes, can you try to see that the whole story was chosen by the editors of the segment? They were speaking to the bias against the local food movement (it’s too expensive, too inconvenient, and too time consuming for the average person) just as much as they were featuring one of our more prominent spokespersons. That bias could be seen as coming straight from Big Ag as a social meme that they nurse to keep their market protected from people changing their habits. They don’t have to do much to keep it going. Just feature a couple of comments that can be freely cherry-picked from a daylong conversation with a national spokesperson. Then leave it to the activist community to go through a wholesale discount and destroy the reputation of one of its own.
We must continue to move with common purpose. We are making wonderful headway in this new political climate. Alice Waters is one of us. I urge you to reclaim her and the beauty of her intentions.
Let this go, please! And if you ever find yourself caught up into the dubious role of speaking for all of us through such an impure medium as our media with all of its hidden agendas and powerful skewing mechanisms, I will surely send you blessings.
Back to work indeed…
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Visit Cuba’s Organic Urban Garedens
Join OCA’s Delegation to Cuba & Lift the Travel Ban
Since 1990, Cuba has carried out the world’s most comprehensive and successful organic food and farming revolution, including the ongoing cultivation of over 60,000 organic urban gardens that supply 50–80% of its urban food needs (learn more http://www.organicconsumers.org/cuba.cfm). The Organic Consumers Association and our
friends at Global Exchange and Food First are organizing a study delegation May 21–29 to Cuba to see and experience firsthand how our Caribbean neighbors have survived economic depression and a life-threatening cut-off of oil and food imports by moving from chemical-intensive agriculture to nearly 100% organic and local production. And of course in the process of carrying out this organic revolution, Cubans have qualitatively improved the island’s public health, biodiversity, and environment, not to mention drastically reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas pollution.
OCA invites you to join Ronnie Cummins and other leading organic food and farm activists for this once in a lifetime inspirational trip to Cuba from May 21 −29. OCA believes that the only way we can overcome our own domestic economic, food, health, energy, and climate crisis is through sharing information and “best practices” with organic practitioners and communities across the globe. This is a major reason why we are calling on Barack Obama to immediately normalize relations with Cuba. Please visit OCA’s Cuba Delegation web page for more information.
Go further! Its high time to lift travel restrictions to Cuba for ALL Americans, restore our right as citizens of the United States to travel freely, and take a giant step toward restoring our country’s reputation in Latin America and the world.
Take Action: Support the Freedom of Travel Bills in the House
Related Web Video of the Week:
Urban Food Growing in Cuba
Cutting off trade with Cuba forced the population to live by their own means. Over time, urban areas in place like Havana have overtaken wasted space with a vast tapestry of medicinal and food gardens. The current Cuban urban agriculture model has become one of the most sophisticated and sustainable organic farming operations in the world. Watch this clip from the BBC’s “Around the World in 80 Gardens” (2008) showing some of this innovative urban food gardening.
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Web Links Providing Guidelines for Food Safety
Please take a look at the nofa.org website where Steve Gilman has posted materials from our Leafy Greens Working Group. Please read what Jim Riddle has written on Organic Certification and Food Safety (his piece is posted on my CSA website -www.gvocsa.org.
When big ag tries to narrow food safety to microbial sanitation, we need to remind the public that truly safe food:
- builds body health and strengthens the immune system
- is produced non-destructively, without poisoning soil, water or air
- provides safe and fairly paid work for producers all along the food chain from the field to the table
- and is accessible to all people at a price they can afford to pay.
Artist-Designed Seed Packs
Art Packs by the Hudson Valley Seed Library
Artist-designed seed packs
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Reports on Urban Ag Policies in 6 Cities
Annie Myers <firstname.lastname@example.org>
You might be interested in the report I completed last Spring, Vitalizing the Vacant, which looks at City Planning and Urban Ag in six different cities…
Hope that helps!
“Mad City Chickens”: Documentary film about keeping chickens in Madison, WI
Wednesday, April 22
7:30pm | Lakefront Brewery Palm Gardens | 1855 Commerce St | Milwaukee
Presented by Outpost Natural Foods Coop
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Great Lakes Region Farm to School Network
CIAS houses the Great Lakes Region Farm to School Network, one of eight regional lead agencies of the National Farm to School Program.
The National Farm to School Program is a collaborative program of the Center for Food and Justice (CFJ), a division of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College and the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC). Its mission is to institutionalize and catalyze farm to school programs in order to provide viable models for improving the economic sustainability of family-scale farmers and supporting child nutrition efforts.
The National Farm to School Program emerged as a result of a research project initiated by the Center for Food and Justice in 2000 that helped support the development of farm to school programs around the country. Realizing that a stronger network would be necessary for the long-term success of these local efforts, the project soon began to look at farm to school at the national level.
The national network officially emerged in 2007 to support state and national policy efforts for farm to school programs; to increase visibility and momentum about farm to school programs; to update and revise existing informational resources on farm to school; to develop networking systems among existing farm to school programs; and to provide training and technical assistance to school administrators, food service, parents, farmers, community members, and others interested at the state, regional and national level. To achieve these goals, the national network has created eight regional lead agencies to organize communication and aid in the development of farm to school programs in sub-regions of the United States.
The Great Lakes Region is comprised of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Farm to school efforts in the region are wide ranging and vary greatly. At least fifty different projects aimed at getting locally grown, healthy foods into school lunches are going on in the region today, and we are learning about more of them every day!
Great Lakes Farm Region to School Network Coordinator: Sara Tedeschi
Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems
University of Wisconsin, Madison
Phone: (608) 513–3980
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Social Intelligence Can Be of Value to Movement Organizing Efforts :)
It’s not just academic intelligence, emotional intelligence, anymore. Here is a very interesting article on social intelligence..
DailyGood: Are you Socially Intelligent?
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Urban Agrarian Crash Pad Exchange Project
Hi James, Ethan, and everyone,
My friends at www.GrowFood.org link people across the country (and beyond) with hands-on work, learning, and volunteer opportunities on organic farms, community gardens, and sustainable-food-systems-oriented enterprises. And they happen to be redesigning their website to support these types of urban and rural hosting and exchange networks that you describe.
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Growing Power in an Urban Food Desert
by Roger Bybee
Will Allen is bringing farming and fresh foods back into city neighborhoods.
At the northern outskirts of Milwaukee, in a neighborhood of boxy post-WWII homes near the sprawling Park Lawn housing project, stand 14 greenhouses arrayed on two acres of land. This is Growing Power, the only land within the Milwaukee city limits zoned as farmland.
Founded by MacArthur Foundation “genius” fellow Will Allen, Growing Power is an active farm producing tons of food each year, a food distribution hub, and a training center. It’s also the home base for an expanding network of similar community food centers, including a Chicago branch run by Allen’s daughter, Erika. Growing Power is in what Allen calls a “food desert,” a part of the city devoid of full-service grocery stores but lined with fast-food joints, liquor stores, and convenience stores selling mostly soda and sweets. Growing Power is an oasis in that desert.
Allen’s parents were sharecroppers in South Carolina until they bought the small farm in Rockville, Maryland, where Allen grew up. “My parents were the biggest influence on my life,” says Allen. “We didn’t have a TV and we relied on a wood stove, but we were known as the ‘food family’ because we had so much food. We could feed 30 people for supper.”
He was a high school All-American in basketball, played for the University of Miami, and played pro ball with the American Basketball Association in Europe. At a towering 6 feet 7 inches, with Schwarzenegger-size biceps, and chiseled features, Allen looks ready to step back onto the court.
After stints as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Proctor and Gamble, he returned to his family roots. “I never wanted a career in the corporate world, but I wanted to be able to afford a good education for my kids,” he explains. “At the right time, the kids were in college and the opportunity to buy the farm and start Growing Power came up,” Allen remembers. “From a spiritual standpoint, it worked out right; it was a natural thing, something I wanted to do.”
Since 1993, Allen has focused on developing Growing Power’s urban agriculture project, which grows vegetables and fruit in its greenhouses, raises goats, ducks, bees, turkeys, and—in an aquaponics system designed by Allen—tilapia and Great Lakes Perch—altogether, 159 varieties of food.
Growing Power also has a 40-acre rural farm in Merton, 45 minutes outside Milwaukee, with five acres devoted to intensive vegetable growing and the balance used for sustainably grown hays, grasses, and legumes which provide food for the urban farm’s livestock.
Allen has taken the knowledge he gained growing up on the farm and supplemented it with the latest in sustainable techniques and his own experimentation.
Growing Power composts more than 6 million pounds of food waste a year, including the farm’s own waste, material from local food distributors, spent grain from a local brewery, and the grounds from a local coffee shop. Allen counts as part of his livestock the red wiggler worms that turn that waste into “Milwaukee Black Gold” worm castings.
Allen seems to take a particular delight in thrusting his steam-shovel-sized hands into a rich mixture of soil and worms in Growing Power’s greenhouses. “You can’t grow anything without good soil,” he preaches to a group touring the project.
Allen designed an aquaponics system, built for just $3,000, a fraction of the $50,000 cost of a commercially-built system. In addition to tilapia, a common fish in aquaculture, Allen also grows yellow perch, a fish once a staple of the Milwaukee diet. Pollution and overfishing killed the Lake Michigan perch fishery; Growing Power will soon make this local favorite available again. The fish are raised in 10,000-gallon tanks where 10,000 fingerlings grow to market size in as little as nine months.
But the fish are only one product of Allen’s aquaponics system. The water from the fish tanks flows into a gravel bed, where the waste breaks down to produce nitrogen in a form plants can use. The gravel bed supports a crop of watercress, which further filters the water. The nutrient-rich water is then pumped to overhead beds to feed crops of tomatoes and salad greens.
The plants extract the nutrients while the worms in the soil consume bacteria from the water, which emerges virtually pristine and flows back into the fish tanks. This vertical growing system multiplies the productivity of the farm’s limited space.
“Growing Power is probably the leading urban agricultural project in the United States,” says Jerry Kaufman, a professor emeritus in urban and regional planning at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Growing Power is not just talking about what needs to be changed, it’s accomplishing it.”
Simply growing that much food in a small space is a remarkable achievement. But it’s only the start of Growing Power’s mission. “Low-quality food is resulting in diabetes, obesity, and sickness from processed food,” Allen maintains. “Poor people are not educated about nutrition and don’t have access to stores that sell nutritious food, and they wind up with diabetes and heart disease.”
Growing healthy food is part of a larger transformational project that will create a more just society, as Allen sees it.
He also works on the Growing Food and Justice Initiative, a national network of about 500 people that fights what he calls “food racism,” the structural denial of wholesome food to poor African-American and Latino neighborhoods. “One of our four strategic goals is to dismantle racism in the food system. Just as there is redlining in lending, there is redlining by grocery stores, denying access to people of color by staying out of minority communities.”
The store at Growing Power’s Milwaukee farm is the only place for miles around that carries fresh produce, free-range eggs, grass-fed beef, and homegrown honey. Even in winter, customers find the handmade shelves and aging coolers stocked with fresh-picked salad greens.
Growing Power co-director Karen Parker, who has worked alongside Allen since the project started, says, “It’s a wonderful thing to change people’s lives through changing what they’re eating.” Parker believes her parents would have lived much longer with a healthier diet. She takes a deep pride in providing fresh, healthy food. “Last summer during the salmonella problem with tomatoes, I was able to tell customers, ‘You don’t have to worry. These tomatoes were grown right here.’ I found myself selling out of tomatoes.”
Growing Power supplements its own products with food from the Rainbow Farming Cooperative, which Allen started at the same time as Growing Power. The cooperative is made up of about 300 family farms in Wisconsin, Michigan, Northern Illinois, and the South. The southern farmers, who are primarily African-Americans, make it possible to offer fresh fruits and vegetables year-round. The produce goes into Growing Power’s popular Farm-to-City Market Baskets. A week’s worth of 12–15 varieties of produce costs $16. A $9 “Junior/Senior” basket, with smaller quantities of the same produce, is also available.
Each Friday, Growing Power delivers 275–350 Market Baskets of food to more than 20 agencies, community centers, and other sites around Milwaukee for distribution. Bernita Samson, a retiree in her 60s with eight grandchildren, picked up the Market Basket habit from her brother and late mother. “I get the biggest kick out of what I get in my bag each week,” she says. “At Sunday dinners my grandkids say, ‘Ooh, Grandma this is good!’ They really like what they call the ‘smashed potatoes.’”
For Samson, Growing Power provides not only healthy food but also a vital source of community. “Sometimes it’s so crowded at the [Growing Power] store on Saturdays you can’t even get up in there. Going there gives you a chance to meet people and talk.”
Growing Power is also a source of 35 good-paying jobs in an area of high unemployment. The staff of Growing Power is highly diverse—a mixture of young and old, African-American, white, Asian, Native American, and Latino, with remarkably varied work histories. All live nearby. Co-director Karen Parker, a high-energy African-American woman who radiates warmth whether greeting her 6-year-old granddaughter or welcoming a volunteer, notes that some staff are former professionals who left the high-stress environments of corporations, social work, and other fields. At Growing Power they find a new kind of fulfillment in the blend of hard physical labor and thoughtful planning based on scientific research. Others are former blue-collar workers, farmers, or recent college graduates. All find satisfaction in transforming how Americans eat.
Loretta Mays, 21, who works in the marketing department, was only 14 when Karen Parker recruited her into the Growing Power Youth Corps program. “It’s a good learning experience, and you learn the importance of good food. I never understood how food was grown. Now, its like, ‘Wow, I can grow my own garden.’”
Four middle and high schools bring students to Growing Power to learn about vermiculture (raising worms) and growing crops, and to eat the food they’ve grown. The impact can change the kids’ lives.
Anthony Jackson started working at Growing Power when he was 14, with half of his earnings going to school clothes and half to a bank account that his church set up. At age 20, he went away to college.
“I learned a good work ethic—that things don’t come easy,” he says of his time at Growing Power. “You’d see Will doing the same things he asked you to do.”
The experience helped to shape the direction of his college education. “Early on, the importance of the healthy food really didn’t hit home,” he says. “But when I got a degree in natural resources, it came to mean a lot more.” Jackson, now 29, still maintains a strong connection, shopping at Growing Power and attending workshops.
Working with the young people in the community is central to Growing Power’s work and its hopes for the future. It provides year-round gardening activities for kids aged 10–18 at its Milwaukee headquarters and offers summertime farming experience on its parcel in Merton, adjacent to the Boys and Girls Club’s Camp Mason. Growing Power recently leased five acres at Milwaukee’s Maple Tree School and built a community garden in partnership with the school. Growing Power also assists school gardens at the Urban Day School and the University School of Milwaukee.
“For kids to make their own soil, grow their own food, and then get to eat it, that’s a very powerful experience,” Will Allen says. “There’s nothing like hands-on experience for kids who are bored with school. They get excited about what they’re learning and then take it back to their classes.”
Growing Power on the Road
Success in Milwaukee isn’t enough for Allen. Growing Power seeks nothing less than, in the words of the organization’s mission statement, “creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.” To show that the techniques pioneered in Milwaukee can work anywhere, Growing Power is helping set up five projects in impoverished areas across the United States, including training centers in Forest City, Arkansas; Lancaster, Massachusetts; and Shelby and Mound Bayou, Mississippi.
The largest application of Growing Power’s model is in Chicago, where Erika Allen, Will’s daughter, is carrying on the family tradition. The Chicago project started in the Cabrini-Green public housing project, where Growing Power’s techniques helped the Fourth Presbyterian Church transform a basketball court into a flourishing community garden fueled by Will Allen’s beloved red worms. Growing Power also has a half-acre farm in Grant Park, in the heart of downtown Chicago. The Grant Park project focuses on job training for young people, involving them in all aspects of growing the 150 varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers the farm sells in Chicago farmers markets and through the Farm-to-City Market Basket program, like the one pioneered in Milwaukee.
After Erika Allen, 39, earned a degree in art therapy, she eventually settled back into her family’s farming tradition, which she believes extends back some 400 years. “I was very much influenced by that tradition, and I got really inspired,” she says. “It was a way of learning to honor my ancestors.”
But she has not turned her back on her artistic impulses. “With my love of art, the Grant Park project is an opportunity to integrate the two—with the colors, design, textures of the plants.”
The most important element, she says, is “to see it inspiring other people. When people in communities like Detroit are really suffering, we can show that we did it in Chicago, with women and a bunch of teenagers.”
The work of involving people in producing and distributing healthy food in Chicago’s food deserts is part of equalizing power in American society, Erika Allen says. “Our work is infused with social justice, fighting racism and oppression.”
The same hunger for justice drives Will Allen’s vision of changing the food system. “How do you take our model and our vision around the world?” Allen asks. “It takes some foot-soldiers who become change agents. We’ve trained an awful lot of people.”
Every year, 10,000 people tour the Growing Power farms. About 3,000 youths and adults from around the world participate in formal training sessions, learning how to build aquaponics systems, construct “hoop houses” (low-cost greenhouses covered by clear plastic), use compost to heat greenhouses, use worms to turn waste into rich fertilizer, and all the other low-tech, high-yield techniques that Growing Power has developed or adapted.
Will Allen takes obvious pleasure in seeing people fed healthy food in great quantities, just as his parents did on their small farm. But he says he derives his deepest satisfaction from a sense of changing the lives of other people harmed by the present food system and the inequities it reflects. “I don’t do things to satisfy myself,” he states firmly. “This is what I’m doing for a bigger pool of people out there.”
‘Roger Bybee’ wrote this article as part of Food for Everyone, the Spring 2009 issue of YES! Magazine. Roger is a Milwaukee-based writer and has been a progressive activist for 40 years. His work has appeared in Z, Dollars & Sense, Multinational Monitor, The Progressive, and elsewhere. His website is www.zcommunications.org-/zspace/rogerdbybee.