Will Allen : Growing Power in the Urban Food Desert

Edible Future: Will Allen

Will Allen is co-founder and director of Growing Power, Inc., an organization that is transforming the production and delivery of healthy foods to underserved, urban populations. Growing Power operates as an urban farm and education center in Milwaukee, WI, and more recently, Chicago, teaching urban youth how to produce low-cost healthy foods for their communities.

Will Allen, photo by Kris Krüg

He showed new techniques in urban farming and how his organization, Growing Power, is using aquaponics and vermicomposting to grow new soil. Allen's farm is a set of greenhouses in a corner of Northwest Milwaukee, walking distance from the city’s largest housing project. His farm doesn’t just feed 10,000 local residents – it’s a source of jobs, of training in polyculture and transformation of waste into food, and a model for the future of urban farming.

Edible Future: Will Allen

Will’s a soft-spoken guy, a former Proctol and Gamble executive, who’s been transformed into a farming innovator. He thanks Michael Pollan for being “the world’s greatest framer” in explaining the global food crisis, and especially in our inner cities. The global migration into cities means we’ve got to figure out how to feed these folks in the future, without totally destroying our environment.

Allen’s talk is focused on solutions – how do we bring good food into “food deserts”, places that have been redlined by grocery stores. It’s a social justice issue, not just an health and environmental issue. There are now ten farms in Allen’s project, over 100 acres in the city of Milwaulkee. The farm is located in a food desert – the nearest grocery store is four miles away, and his neighbors, living in housing projects, often don’t have access to transportation.

His solution is to produce food in cities, year-round. In the process, these farms grow communities. The project began in 1993, when Allen bought the last working farm in Milwaulkee. He shows us a photo of local kids in those days – we can tell the photo’s dated, he tells us, because the kids have their pants pulled up!

Watch his video below to find out why worms are our friends.

PopTech 2009: Will Allen from PopTech on Vimeo.

For more, read Allen’s Good Food Manifesto for America, sign up for a Growing Power 2010 workshop, and follow Growing Power on their blog, Twitter (@growingpower), and Facebook fan page.