More than 20 years ago, Will Allen began farming on his first plot of land in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Now, Allen is the founder and CEO of Growing Power, a non-profit urban farming foundation with two farms totaling 140 acres of land. Allen urged a large crowd in the Roland Hayes Auditorium to take on their own urban farming projects.
“The good food movement is no longer a movement. It’s now a revolution. There hasn’t been a better time than right now to start,” he said.
Allen, who bought the last remaining farm in the city of Milwaukee in 1993, now grows thousands of pounds of food year-round to feed the surrounding under-served, urban population. His farms provide the only healthy food in a 3.5-mile radius. Growing Power also provides 15 produce stands throughout Milwaukee.
“Everyone deserves access to good, locally grown, organic produce. It’s food you can trust,” he said.
This past year, Growing Power has hosted more than 20,000 people and trained 15,000 farmers who have come to visit the organization and take workshops on community food systems, aquaponics, composting, and vermiculture. Growing Power also partners with other organizations in the city, including a firehouse and cemetery to build urban gardens.
“We’ve made tremendous progress in having people see the first line of defense against disease is the food we put into our bellies,” he said.
Growing Power is focused on educating youth with workshops and internships. According to Allen, the hands-on education children receive at Growing Power often leads to better grades in school and scholarships for college.
“Something changes when you put 200 worms into a child’s hands. At first, they’re scared, but then they want to learn,” he said.
Allen is also focused on sustainability. A quarter of the farms’ electricity is powered by solar energy, and a water catchment system is in place to reuse water.
“We can’t do this without renewable energy. A sustainable food system is the only way we’re going to end hunger in the world,” Allen said.
Allen had simple advice for those who want to start their own urban farms and gardens.
“You have to get the politicians and corporations on board. Farmers aren’t typically good at promoting their work. So don’t go to them empty-handed. Show them the effects of all the good you can do,” he said.