“If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community. I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.”
These are the inspiring words of Growing Power founder and CEO, Will Allen. It’s not just his wisdom, but his entire journey from family farmer to one of the world’s most preeminent leaders in urban agriculture that is full of inspiration. In celebration of Earth Day's critical call to action, we will be donating 30% of this weekend's sale to this phenomenal and multifaceted nonprofit organization. Read on and get inspired.
Growing up on a small Maryland farm, Will fatefully reconnected with these childhood roots while playing professional basketball in Belgium. After observing the intensely specialized techniques the local farmers used to maximize the produce production of their small plots, he returned home to employ these same methods in the suburbs outside Milwaukee.
While looking for a space to sell their produce, Will and his wife happened upon Milwaukee’s last urban tract still zoned for agriculture and the real seeds for Growing Power were soon planted. Local youth, many from the city’s largest low-income housing project and other inner city neighborhoods where fresh food options were scarce, flocked to Will for guidance on growing their own vegetables. Moved by the young people’s motivation to create communal and sustainable food sources, he started the farming education Youth Corps program and founded Growing Power in 1995.
Since its inception, the organization has been dedicated to supporting people from diverse backgrounds and the environments in which they live by helping to provide equal access to quality, safe, and affordable food. With a multitude of thriving farms and community education centers in both Wisconsin and Illinois, including the original one, the organization remains true to its youth-empowered origins by partnering with schools and local youth programs to develop and care for the land, crops, and livestock. Growing Power employs several innovative systems on these farms such as Aquaponics, the method of growing crops and fish together in a recirculating system, and is developing a Vertical Farming concept to dramatically increase year-round crop production in densely populated urban areas.
GP looks to the sky and city to power its diverse agricultural systems, working with both the Milwaukee Energy Efficiency Program (Me2) and the city's solar power program, Milwaukee Shines. Plus they are spearheading the use of Anaerobic Digestion, the process in which microorganisms break down compost in the absence of oxygen, as a renewable energy source. Not only does this process replace fossil fuels, but it also helps manage waste and creates a nutrient-packed fertilizer as the end result.
Speaking of compost, Growing Power lets almost no local waste go unused. They pick it up by the literal truckload from all of their own farms plus many other food and produce producers between Milwaukee and Chicago. In addition, GP also collects 60,000 pounds of weekly brewery waste and 500 pounds of discarded newspapers a week. This is reducing, reusing, and recycling at its very finest.
Youth Corp is still an instrumental aspect of Growing Power’s educational outreach. The Corp offers underserved youth academic and professional experience in the development and management of community food systems leading to occupational skills, future employability, and leadership training. While working onsite at the GP Community Food Center, the participants learn agricultural skills such as building and maintaining aquaponic systems, soil remediation through raised beds, hoop house construction, vermiculture, and food distribution.
Anyone of any age can get involved and take advantage of the organization’s wealth of resources through volunteering, internships, and workshops tackling both the business and farming facets of urban agriculture.
Despite the enormous growth of Growing Power since its humble 1995 beginning, Will Allen has plenty left on his agenda. He hopes to spread the organization's mission well beyond his native soil. As an international ambassador for urban agriculture and universal food security, Will has trained and taught in the Ukraine, Macedonia, and Kenya and he plans to create community food centers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Haiti.
To keep his connection to the land and its generous gifts constant and strong, Will continues to farm his own acreage in Oak Creek, Milwaukee while directing operations at the nearby Growing Power headquarters.
Will Allen has inspired us and we hope you to strengthen our own ties to the soil and the food it cultivates not only on Earth Day, but on all of our days upon this fragile yet extraordinarily bountiful Earth.