The food system is broken and we have to start a new food system. The way to do that is through urban farming. By growing healthy food, we also grow healthy people and communities.
That’s essentially the message Will Allen gives in The Good Food Revolution, his new book that’s largely biography and part food policy. He tells the story of his journey from sharecropper’s son, to University of Miami athlete, to corporate executive, to urban farmer and prize winner, sharing many lessons learned of grit and hope, community and self-sufficiency. His life-changing decision was to go back to his roots and grow food.
“Food is the most important thing in our lives. It’s the one thing that brings people together as one. It puts everyone on an equal level to survive. Why are we eating bad food? We should be eating good food,” Will told an audience of over 150 people who came to heard him speak in Coral Gables, on the first stop of his book tour co-sponsored by Books & Books and Slow Food Miami. (Will was also in town to accept an honorary degree from UM.)
Will showed a video about Growing Power, his enormous urban farm organization based in Milwaukee, and numerous slides of projects old and new. His mission: “We have to be proactive and rebuild the system so that everybody has safe, affordable, sustainable food.” Growing Power has done just that, planting gardens in underserved neighborhoods, to feed people who have little to no access to fresh vegetables. His urban farm began on a three acre parcel he bought in 1993, which since has evolved into a community food center where people can buy food raised on the farm, and take workshops to learn farming and community building skills. The operation has grown to include multiple urban farm sites and markets, a large composting facility, and livestock consisting of bees, goats, chickens, worms, and tanks full of perch and tilapia.
According to Will, the local food revolution has begun. People are past the talking stage of a movement and must now start building infrastructure — farms, markets, distribution systems, training programs — and most important, partner with everyone. “Businesses, non-profits, government organizations, politicians, all have to sit at the same table. Can’t kick people from the table.” He emphasized that building relationships is the way to make things happen.
“Engage community youth,” he advised a woman in the audience who builds school gardens. Getting kids involved is an important part of Growing Power — giving them jobs, teaching them farming skills, applying those skills to academic studies, then supporting kids with college scholarships.
*** Part One of two parts ***