A MacArthur Fellowship for an Urban Farmer: Will Allen

Will Allen, the Urban Farmer

Will Allen, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin has decided to make it his mission to bring affordable healthy food to families in city neighborhoods that generally lack quality fresh food.

In 1995, he established a three-acre nonprofit farm known as Growing Power. Today, Will Allen, a 2008 winner of a MacArthur Fellowship,* has 35 full-time employees and 1000 volunteers. Together they use sustainable agricultural practices to grow 159 kinds of vegetables, fruits, and edible flowers. They also raise fish, poultry, honeybees, sheep, and goats. They sell their bounty to farmer's markets which they bundle into low-cost baskets for local families, and which is also served at local restaurants.

Working to Replace Industrialized Food Systems

Mr. Allen remains at the forefront of a burgeoning movement aimed at replacing the gigantic industrialized American food system with smaller sustainable agricultural farming practices. He shares his agrarian philosphies with the more than 10,000 people who visit the farm each year.

Who is Will Allen?

Will Allen was born 60 years ago on a farm in Rockville, Maryland. He earned a basketball scholarship to the University of Miami and played pro ball in Florida and Belgium before starting a career in marketing. In 1995, he assisted neighborhood children with their organic gardening project; it was around that time that he then decided to make this his mission - to bring affordable healthy food to underserved, urban populations. He has been succesful.

The Holistic Approach

He attributes the limited access of urban populations to fresh fruits and vegetables to such related health problems as obesity and diabetes. Rather than embracing the 'back to the land' approach, Mr. Allen uses a holistic farming model which incorporates both cultivating food and designing food distribution networks within an urban setting. He uses a variety of low-cost farming technologies which include the use of raised beds, aquaculture, vermiculture, and heating greenhouses through the use of composting.

As a result, Growing Power produces vast amounts of food year-round at its main farming sites located within the Milwaukee city limits. Recently, the cultivation of produce has started in other rural and urban sites in and around Milwaukee, as well as in Chicago.

In the past 10 years, teenagers and adults have been engaged in producing healthy foods for their own communites. Growing Power provides intensive hands-on training to people interested in establishing similar farming initiatives.

Presently, Will Allen is experimenting with new and creative ways to improve the diet and health of the urban poor. His blog is filled with more information than I can possibly share here and is worth reading:

growingpower.org/blog

The website is equally great and inspiring. For more information about Will Allen and Growing Power visit growingpower.org

I've been so inspired after reading about this man, his family, his philosphy and his mission.

* On September 23, 2008, The MacArthur Foundation named 25 new MacArthur Fellows for 2008. The program offers recipients $500,000 'no strings attached' support over the next five years. Recipients are offered the opportunity to accelerate their current activities or take their work in new directions. Will Allen was rewarded for applying low-cost technologies to the cultivation, production, and the delivery of healthy foods to underserved urban populations.

(Did you know? - At one time growing hemp was required by law in the US - see link)

For great pictures and a first-hand account from a hubber - see the link about a visit to the farm.

down on the farm

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Comments 12 comments

William McCracken 6 years ago

Comprehensive article. Have you ever been there?


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Not yet William McCracken - this is on my list for the Spring thaw. I'd like to volunteer for a week. I'm so glad to see this type of community involvement - this 'can do' attitude. We're doing more planting here in NYC but nothing of this magnitude - wow!

Thanks for writing!


Katrina Ariel profile image

Katrina Ariel 6 years ago from The Highlands of British Columbia, Canada

This is great info - it's awesome to see more community farming in cities. Silly, really, how simple and rewarding it is to grow food. There's no reason so much of it should be produced in such an industrial and irresponsible way when communities can provide so much for themselves.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

So true Katrina Ariel - I just love it! - and yes, why should food be industrialized anyway. I'm happy to see this happening in NYC and I'm sure we will be doing more of it. Farmer's markets are big and year round too! Many of us belong to organic communities. I'm glad you liked the hub - thanks for commenting!


HealthyHanna profile image

HealthyHanna 6 years ago from Utah

This is a great idea! I personally live in a rural area and have my own garden (not much fruit because to the growing season) but I have lots of friends and family that live in the city. I do think this is an important resource for people urban areas to have/know. The future is uncertain, but if we know we can provide food for ourselves, it will give us peace of mind.

Great idea for a Hub!

http://hubpages.com/health/Creating-A-Wellness-Cen...

www.eco-wellness-store.com


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

So true HealthyHana - we should always know that we can provide food for ourselves - but most of us cannot. And healthy food should not break our budget - I feel it should be the minimum right esp. for children. Nice to meet you - I will come and visit!


TheListLady profile image

TheListLady 6 years ago from New York City

I would love to visit this place - even volunteer. I have read so much about Will Allen and his amazing place. Really inspiring.

Thanks so much for the information!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

There is nothing we need more TheListLady - than food. And it has become an (ugh!) industrial commodity. I hope to get there too and I'm happy to say in NYC we are embracing our urban gardeners and farmer's markets. Real food - what a concept.

Thank's for writing!


Danette Watt profile image

Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

Great hub. So true about the link to obesity and lack of fresh food in inner cities. Some neighborhoods don't have grocery stores and residents must rely on convenience stores which certainly don't sell the most nourishing foods.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Yes, Danette Watt - this is so true in so many NYC neighborhoods - even the supermarkets sell garbage as food. Finally we are becoming aware that food is...well, everything!

Thanks for writing!


RunAbstract profile image

RunAbstract 5 years ago from USA

God bless this man! What a wonderful way for a person to expand knowledge and health! And thank you for sharing this article!

In the small town where I live the Meals on Wheels program started a community garden which quickly became the personal project of a public school near the garden. Then when school was out for the summer, the kids went on their way to more "fun" things, leaving the garden mainly unattended. Hopefully if this garden is continued next year, a more diverse group will be involved in the cultivation and care of the garden. More real community participation. Because the idea behind it was a good one!

Thanks again for this great and inspiring article!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 5 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

I'm so glad you liked the hub RunAbstact. I'm so impressed and what a gift from Will Allen - to not believe he must accept the low quality industrial food offered. I hope to visit his farm next year.

Thanks for writing. I appreciated your hub on Frankenfoods.

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