Growing Power: My Urban Farming Adventure (Part 2 of 2)
A few weeks ago, I wrote about my spring break at Growing Power, an urban farm in Milwaukee. The farm’s founder, Will Allen, is speaking at this year’s Congress in Madison, WI. For part two of my blog, I’ll focus on Growing Power’s role in the community, and the impact of Will Allen’s work both at home and abroad.
Since it’s founding, Growing Power has maintained close ties with the working-class neighborhood it calls home. Through outreach and education programs, the farm introduces agriculture and business skills to youth from low-income backgrounds. One such program is the Milwaukee Youth Corps (also operating in Chicago), which invites kids and teens from the inner city to work on the farm and learn all aspects of the trade, from growing produce to eating healthy, being more active, marketing, and learning entrepreneurial and leadership skills.
For many of the Youth Corps teens, the agricultural world is far different than anything they have experienced. Farming is not about instant gratification—these teens don’t see the fruits of their labor right away. Instead, it’s about patience, taking care of plants and animals through various lifecycle stages, and learning to nurture something other than oneself. These are skills and values that translate into all aspects of life, from relationships to jobs.
And these teens are not just learning valuable life skills; they are helping to bring fresh fruits and veggies into their communities as well. Supermarkets are rare in many low-income areas, and instead of healthy produce, poor individuals and families rely on inexpensive, processed foods as a source of fuel. While some seem to think that “food deserts” are devoid of all sustenance, fast food joints and convenience stores are often plentiful. As Will Allen stated in a NYTimes Magazine article from July 2009, “No, we are not suddenly starving to death; we are slowly but surely malnourishing ourselves to death.” Growing Power is reversing this trend of harm and neglect and ensuring healthy food options for low-income neighborhoods.
Growing Power’s work doesn’t stop in Milwaukee—its reach has expanded both nationally and internationally. Will Allen has shared all parts of sustainable agriculture—from aquaponics to vermicomposting—with individuals and organizations around the world. However, though no one can doubt Will Allen’s mission, some may question the viability of replication in other urban areas. Growing Power relies on dozens of staff members, interns, and volunteers to keep the farm’s myriad components up and running. And just selling livestock and produce is not enough to keep the farm in the green; Growing Power must acquire grants from various sources to thrive as it does. I’ve learned that many smaller organizations—doing work in all community contexts—simply don’t have the capacity to maintain this level of infrastructure, intensity and investment. These are challenges that other urban farms will need to overcome before they can thrive like Growing Power.
Nevertheless, Will Allen and Growing Power continue to educate and inspire, and rightfully so. The notions of community and sustainability—elements that are fundamental to urban agriculture—certainly appeal to the masses. I, like many of you, can’t wait to hear Will speak at CNU 19, and learn how I can continue to support “Growing Local.”
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