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Bringing the farm to the city

Tale of urban agriculture project makes for good reading

By Peggy Hyland

For The Free Lance-Star

“THE GOOD Food Revolution” tells the tale of how Will Allen helped shape the movement for urban agriculture. The book is a fascinating blend of personal memoir and a study of American racism and industrialization. Those forces all shaped the country, our food culture, his family and him. His vision for the future of urban farming was shaped by his own experiences as a son, husband, father, professional athlete, two-time cancer survivor and, ultimately, a farmer. He and co-author Charles Wilson interspersed the book with vignettes that show his personal experiences through a philosophical outlook.

Allen wanted “to rebrand farming as something that could be entrepreneurial and black-owned rather than something associated with sharecropping and slavery.” He was inspired equally by family and historical figures like George Washington Carver, and some of today’s pioneering visionaries.

In a disadvantaged section of Milwaukee, he incorporated traditional farming methods with new techniques like worm farming for compost, breeding tilapia in tanks that help filter water for the plant beds, and heating the greenhouses with byproducts of raising chickens. Allen has always focused on methods that are both sustainable for the soil and achievable by every grower: “I try never to use a more expensive, energy-intensive technology when a simpler one can serve the same purpose.”

Part food program, part community-improvement organization, the purpose of Allen’s organization, Growing Power, is “to control the production, marketing, and distribution of food on a community level—and to strengthen the neighborhood in the process.” Growing Power, was to partner with local wholesalers to create and distribute baskets of produce that were food-stamp eligible. Beautifying city lots led to a decrease in the crime rate. Local children were given transferable job skills, and juvenile delinquents were helped to stay out of trouble. Allen created programs that benefited families and farmers, while also training a new generation to follow in his footsteps and improve upon his vision.

Allen places a strong emphasis on the work ethic gained through farming. The book is replete with tales of children he has helped over the years, demonstrating that urban farming programs can help nurture a child’s mind as much as fresh produce nourishes the body. He celebrates his successes without being overly self-congratulatory, owning up honestly to the criticisms and pitfalls he has faced. He is resolute on the path to his dream, and has helped establish training programs throughout the country so that others can take up the mantle.

Peggy Hyland is a freelance reviewer in Fredericksburg.

THE GOOD FOOD REVOLUTION: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities.

By Will Allen

(Gotham, $26, 272 pp.)





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