By Kamaria Greenfield
This September in Milwaukee, the Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI) will hold its fourth annual conference, including a program entitled “Sacred Soil: Cultivating Seeds of Community Transformation”. GFJI is a new national network of about 500 people who believe that dismantling racism is a core principal that will bring together people from all sectors. The initiative hopes to see a range of healthy food options in low-income communities and communities of color. It also encourages community ownership of these businesses, keeping the profits and bolstering the local economy.
Will Allen, founder and CEO of Growing Power, shows off one of his Community Food Center’s 10,000 fish. (Photo credit: Growing Power)
GFJI’s conferences are hosted by Growing Power, Inc. Growing Power, started in 1993, is a Milwaukee-based national non-profit, land trust, and the driving force behind last year’s National-International Urban & Small Farm Conference. The organization works to achieve its goals by providing hands-on training, demonstrations, and other services. Will Allen, CEO and founder of Growing Power, operates with the belief that people should have access to fresh, safe, affordable, and nutritious food regardless of their socioeconomic standing. In 2010, Allen was named on Time’s 100 list of people who most affect the world.
Allen’s Community Food Center in Milwaukee makes up two acres and is home to 20,000 plants and thousands of animals and insects, including fish, chicken, goats, and bees. Located in the middle of a food desert, it is the only land within the city limits that is zoned as farmland. The USDA’s 2008 Farm Bill defines a food desert as an “area in the United States with limited access to affordable and nutritious food, particularly such an area composed of predominantly lower income neighborhoods and communities”. The Community Food Center is located less than half a mile from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. Its 14 greenhouses use methods such as an inexpensive aquaponics structure for smaller fish. The center is also where over six million pounds of food waste are composted annually, partially thanks to the red wiggler worms that Allen sees as part of the farm’s livestock.
Growing Power is part of larger movement to extend food security to under-served urban and rural communities in the United States, lessening the disparity between farmers and consumers of different ethnic groups and social classes. On the lack of black-run agriculture nationwide, Karen Washington of the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference says, “How can we talk about sustainable agriculture — how can it be sustainable if a whole race of farmers is being lost?”
Growing Power, far from remaining simply a beacon of health in Milwaukee, is starting projects in five poor areas around the country, including parts of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Massachusetts. Allen, 62, continues to work tirelessly on his brainchild and live by his credo of “Grow. Bloom. Thrive.” And at the GFJI conference later this year, participants will learn more strategies about how to make Allen’s words—the goals of diverse community farms around the country—a reality for more of the under-served.
Kamaria Greenfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.