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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.)

Board members of Slow Food Miami with Will Allen

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.

Nick and Margie Pikarsky of Bee Heaven Farm with Will Allen

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 ***

Melissa Contreras and Miss Shirley of Urban Oasis Project with Will Allen

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Thursday, May 10, 2012
7:30 p.m.
Free and open to the public

Pioneering urban farmer and MacArthur “Genius Award” winner Will Allen had no intention of ever becoming a farmer. But after years in professional basketball and as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter & Gamble, Allen cashed in his retirement fund for a two-acre plot a half mile away from Milwaukee’s largest public housing project. The area was a food desert with only convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to serve the needs of local residents. In the face of financial challenges and daunting odds, Allen built the country’s preeminent urban farm – a food and educational center that now produces enough vegetables and fish year-round to feed thousands of people. Employing young people from the neighboring housing project and community, Growing Power has sought to prove that local food systems can help troubled youths, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health. Today, Allen’s organization helps develop community food systems across the country. An eco-classic in the making, The Good Food Revolution (Gotham, $26) is the story of Will’s personal journey, the lives he has touched, and a grassroots movement that is changing the way our nation eats. Presented by Books & Books in collaboration with Slow Food Miami. 

Location:

Coral Gables Congregational Church
3010 De Soto Boulevard
Coral Gables, Florida 33134
(located across from the Biltmore Hotel)
phone: 305-448-7421

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