Will Allen is no longer a secret, his gardens are no longer small, and his ideas are no longer dreams. Chief Executive Officer of Growing Power, Allen designed a program to put youth in need of jobs to work as city farmers. His work in Community Food Systems, and his focus on providing nutritious, affordable foods for all residents in a community, led Allen to be named on of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world.
The organization’s credo — “Grow. Bloom. Thrive.” — mimics phases of the plant growth in the gardens to define how the people and communities involved with Growing Power, Inc. can hope to evolve, too. The group helps urban farms grow by demonstrating easily replicable growing methods with workshops and demonstrations; bloom through further outreach on local, national and international levels; and thrive through their demonstration food production greenhouses and distribution of produce, grass-based meats and value-added products from various family-farm-based cooperatives. Some of Growing Power’s farms are located in rural areas in Wisconsin and Illinois, although much of the organization’s farming and training focuses on their city farms. The group has also worked to developed regional outreach training centers, to provide a local training support to communities across the country.
Maintaining its core in youth education, Growing Power’s Youth Corps apprenticeship program provides both academic and professional experience to low-income youth. The apprenticeship includes training in organic agriculture, as well as entrepreneurship. In Chicago, the youth program connects young people to food production and cultivation by literally getting their hands in the ground. Not only do the apprentices plant, weed and harvest produce in the allotment gardens, they also have an opportunity to work at South Chore Cultural Centers’ weekly farmers market. Specifically, the training focuses on city farming techniques, including aquaponics, vermiculture and making compost.
Projects like Allen’s have great potential for changing the way citydwellers relate to their food. By giving special attention to youth development, the future food system has even greater potential to become the sustainable, localized system that lower income neighborhoods need. Sharing the skills of how to grow food organically with communities who cannot afford the high ticket price of organic fruits and veggies on the supermarket shelves lays the foundation for a real food system revolution.
Jennifer Kongs is the Managing Editor at MOTHER EARTH NEWS magazine. When she’s not working at the magazine, she’s likely working in her garden, on the local running trails or in her kitchen instead. You can find Jennifer on Twitter or Google+.
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