Posts Tagged ‘Will Allen’

*** Part Two of two ***

McArthur “genius prize” winner Will Allen spoke about his work in urban farming on a recent book tour. Here is part two, about his influence on a local non-profit.

Will Allen spoke at a recent tour of his new book, The Good Food Revolution.

In the audience were a number of people deeply involved in our fledgling local food movement. Among them were Melissa Contreras and Art Friedrich of Urban Oasis Project, a non-profit that plants food gardens and runs farmers markets. Their mission is clear and simple: “We believe that good, clean, healthy food should be accessible and affordable to all.”

Project founder Melissa was thrilled to hear Will Allen speak again. His message “energized me to keep moving forward with Urban Oasis Project after its first nine months” when it was just her and Art trying to get others involved. She attended a community food systems workshop at Growing Power in 2009 to learn more. “The work he was doing was so similar to what we were trying to achieve: teach people to grow some of their own food, and increase access to fresh, local produce to be eaten with a day or so after harvest,” she said.

Her commitment to Growing Power’s training didn’t stop after the workshop was over. Melissa explained, “I signed a pledge that I would come back to my community and teach others what I learned there. We have been doing that, but some of it is on hold until we have a place to call our own.”

Market manager Art said their non-profit drew from Will Allen’s work, especially in terms of food justice. Art explained, “He’s the inspiration why we started planting gardens, to create the future leaders of the local food movement, especially in neighborhoods where it’s hard to have access to fresh food. First grow community, then soil, then plants.”

And Miss Shirley, a volunteer who helps at Urban Oasis markets, was thrilled to meet Will. “He’s giving back to his people, he’s giving his time. I learned what soil was made of and how to take care of the earth. And to be grateful for what you have.”

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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. 


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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Greetings once again, Redland Ramblers! Guest blogger Melissa Contreras here again, founder of Urban Oasis Project, urban micro-farmer.  I’m back to tell you about day two of my trip to the Small Farms/Alternative Enterprises Conference last weekend.

After rising early, we all piled into Margie’s van and headed over to the Osceola Heritage Park for the official beginning of the conference. Since I know that all you local foodies want to know about the food, let me start with breakfast: rather light fare was provided at the conference, but like our full lunch, it consisted mostly of Florida farm-grown food. A deep dish frittata of free-range Florida eggs with cream from grass-fed cows was served, accompanied by Lambeth Groves’ orange juice, cold and fresh, a perfect blend of sweetness and acidity. We were treated to Florida’s “other juice,” Muscadine grape juice: crisp, lightly sweet, and perfumed of dewy-misted grapes, from Lakeridge Winery and Vineyard in the high country of Clermont. Certified organic blueberries from Gail and Mike Waldron of Bay Lake Blueberries in Marion County mingled with mangos from our own Dr. Jonathan Crane of TREC in Homestead.  Fair trade coffee was provided by Sweetwater Organic Coffee Company of Gainesville, which purchases from Rainforest Alliance-certified small farmers in the Tropics. For our coffee, we actually had the luxury of choosing milk from 2 small dairies, Dakin Dairy Farm of Myakka City, or Kurtz and Sons Dairy of Live Oak. Bubba and Leslie Kurtz run a “grass-fed dairy farmstead” of Jerseys and Shorthorns, and work to keep their milk as close to Nature as possible. This is not a business slogan for them, it is a way of life. After coffee finished with Nature’s perfect food, I was ready for a full day of conference and break-out sessions.

We all headed over to the big lunch room for the opening session. Welcomes came from kick-off speakers Dr. Joan Dusky of UF/IFAS in Gainesville and Dr. Ray Mobley of FAMU in Tallahassee, a co-sponsor of the event. FAMU and UF and are Florida’s 2 land grant universities, dating back to the ugly days of segregation, when black people went to one university and white people went to another. (Beside the obvious injustice of this, it begs another question- where did the original inhabitants of this land go? But that is another story.)

Next came the Florida Innovative Farmer Awards! These awards are given to farmers and ranchers who are leaders and innovators, based on the following criteria (quote):

  • Success in making farming systems more profitable over the long term.
  • Ability to use farming practices that enhance, rather than harm, natural resources.
  • Leading -or participating in-  activities that support viable communities, either through economic development or contribution to regional food systems.
  • Effective outreach and/or education about sustainable agriculture ideas and practices to others, such as producers, community leaders, agricultural educators, and the general public.

There were 3 winners of these awards, the first being Chris and Eva Worden of Worden Farm in Punta Gorda. They got up on the stage in front of their small farmer peers, and were given a well-deserved round of thunderous applause. Both are Ivy League educated, Yale and Cornell, but are very down-to-Earth and in love with their vocation and avocation, farming. Upon acceptance of the award, Chris said to the audience, “We love to grow crops.” They grow 50 different varieties, mostly vegetables, some fruit, and do it organically, using soil and water conservation techniques. They have a CSA, sell at farmers markets, have workshops at the farm, art programs, and “grow future farmers and gardeners.” They help community gardens, about which Eva knows a thing or two, having authored papers on the subject. She said “anyone who works with community gardens knows that it is easy to start one, harder to maintain them, so we stay with them, encourage and help them.” Eva explained that they “grow great crops, connect with the local community, and promote the viability of the family farm.”

(L-R) Christine Kelly-Begazo, Eva Worden, Chris Worden. The Wordens receiving the Florida Innovative Farmer Award, a happy achievement for the work they love!

I went to Worden Farm last year with Farmer Margie and the WWOOFers, and my folks from Urban Oasis Project. We had a tour of the farm, and got to see the amazing results Chris and Eva get from good stewardship of their 55 certified organic acres. Because they supply some of the food in Redland Organics CSA shares, I thanked them for feeding my family. By the way, have you thanked your farmer lately?

The second recipient of the awards was Trish Strawn of Deep Creek Ranch in Deland. Trish and her dad, David, work the family farm which has been around since 1883. Trish said they got into grass-fed beef because her dad had a health issue, but she said if you ask her dad, he’ll say it’s because they’re “cutting edge.” The room broke into laughter.Trish is Co-Leader of Slow Food Orlando, and a founding member of the Florida Food Policy Council. She is also a lot of fun to go out and have a beer and a lot of good laughs with, which we did later that night. Trish and her dad are the real deal. Joel Salatin must be proud.

The third award recipient was George Owens of Chipley, FL, who has a mixed cattle and timber/forestry operation, or silvopasture. George could not be present for the awards because his son had just come home for a short visit from Afghanistan. All were very happy for him. The award presenters said “we tend toward a monoculture system, so when we get someone who does integration, we want to encourage it.”  I am a believer in agroecology, and it is very encouraging to hear agricultural professionals talk about moving away from monocultures!

I was very excited to hear my friend Will Allen of Growing Power, Inc. give the keynote address. Unfortunately, Will had some knee surgery which made it impossible for him to travel to the conference, though that was the original plan. Technology to the rescue! The AV geeks got the satellite/internet hookup to Will Allen up and running, and we were able to see and hear him on 2 large screens, and he was able to see and hear us.

That's me with Will Allen at a Growing Power workshop last year. Will loves scooping Lake Perch out of his aquaponics tanks! He loved to fish when he lived in Miami too.

Larger than life on the big screen, Will spoke about the history of Growing Power, all the amazing past, present and future projects they have, and was enthusiastic and inspirational as always. Larger than life is a profound statement when referring to Will Allen, who stands tall at 6’7” and weighs 230 pounds. Will played basketball for the University of Miami in the 1970’s, and still wears an orange and green UM cap with his signature royal blue Growing Power sweatshirt with cut-off sleeves. His biceps are bigger than many supermodel’s waists, and he keeps them that way by working hard every day, growing food for Milwaukee’s inner city on 3 acres, 2 blocks from one of the country’s largest low-income housing projects, in what was an urban food desert until Will’s good food movement became a good food revolution. Will is not an armchair CEO. He gets his hands dirty. He loves farming like Chris and Eva Worden do. I think some of us are born agrarian. It is not a choice, it’s in our blood, and it’s who we are.

Will showed many slides of Growing Power in action: composting thousands of tons of Milwakee’s food and brewery waste and “growing soil” as he says; passing compost through the digestive tracts of thousands of worms, creating rich worm castings fertilizer; raising tilapia and lake perch in the bottom level of a 3-tiered, homemade aquaponics system, with watercress growing in the middle layer, and tomatoes on top; raising chickens and bees in the city; providing a safe after-school space for urban youth to learn green job skills; feeding senior citizens healthy food with a “food basket” CSA; providing a retail grocery space with their fresh salad greens, eggs, and so much more to the neighborhood in which Growing Power’s urban farm resides.

“If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community.  I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.”

Will is a major inspiration for what we do in Urban Oasis Project, doing our part to make good, clean, safe, healthy, and local food accessible to all. Access to real food should be a right of all citizens. Will says “we can’t wait around for government or others to do it, we have to do it, just start doing things.”

I could go on about Will Allen forever, but I’ll stop here. Please come back for Part Three, highlighting local food lunches and conference workshops!

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If you missed seeing FRESH the Movie at last month’s screening up in Broward, you have another chance. The good folks at the Urban Oasis Project are showing FRESH at their September meeting. Also on the agenda is a potluck dinner and a garden tour. The screening/meeting is on Saturday, September 12th. For more details — including how to RSVP — go to the Urban Oasis project website.

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Two films about food rolled into town last weekend. Both FRESH and Food, Inc. (which played all around town earlier this summer) cover the same ground of factory farming versus sustainable organic family farming. Both will hopefully make you think twice about what you eat and where it comes from. But the two films differ like night and day in tone and approach toward current food production systems, and their discussion of alternatives.

Food, Inc. was definitely the big budget production with slick graphics, aerials, and an emotion-wringing score. The film focused on the dark side of corporate, mass-produced products which we all know packaged and processed foods in the supermarket. Chickens and sides of beef hanging on large hooks passed on conveyors that filled huge buildings. One could almost smell the footage of in-your-face scenes of feedlots and slaughterhouses. Food, Inc. mentioned a lumber of lawsuits that Monsanto had filed against farmers for saving seeds, or getting their fields infected by GMO pollen (familiar ground if you have already seen The Future of Food). Monsanto took a drubbing in this film for suing farmers. Author Michael Pollan explained all processed foods are based in some ways from mass produced corn or soybeans. (If you’ve read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, you’re familiar with this information.) As the credits rolled, I felt I had been beaten by a gloomy sci-fi stick, only the future is now. Alternative organic farming was mentioned as a solution, but Joel Salatin’s enthusiasm seemed insufficient to overcome the horrors of factory farming and corporate foods.

Luiz Rorogues, Gabriele Marewski, Michael Laas

Luiz Rodrigues, ECOMB; Gabriele Marewski, Paradise Farms; Michael Laas, ECOMB

After the showing of Food Inc., organic farmer Gabriele Marewski of
Paradise Farms fielded questions. She bought an optimistic attitude (along with a big bowl of longans, avocados and mamey) that provided an antidote to the movie’s gloom. “The biggest revenge is to grow our own food,” she said. “Grow whatever you possibly can. It’s a movement and they can’t stop us.” She mentioned her new business venture, Miami Victory Gardens, a potting and growing system that anybody can put into their yard to raise their own herbs and vegetables. Gabriele described gardening as a spiritual exercise which allows you to “develop a relationship with food and your place in the world.”

The next day I went to see FRESH, hesitantly thinking I would get more of the same. There are some overlaps between the two films. Both interviewed organic farmer Joel Salatin and author Michael Pollan. In Food, Inc., they were cast as voices criticizing the corporate food system, but in FRESH the conversations with them and other farmers are more thoughtful and optimistic, and the film’s slower pace allowed interviews to go deeper.

FRESH the movie

FRESH the movie

Salatin was beautifully photographed working on his farm herding cows to greener pastures, towing eggmobiles full of chickens in early morning mist, and hanging out with happy tail-wagging hogs. He spoke about growing a superior product on his own terms that people clamor for, and described his chickens as “fellow workers that you honor and respect and fully allow them to express their chickenness.” He is “committed to healing the land,” and he said that “part of the responsibility of being stewards of the earth is to respect the design of nature.”

Michael Pollan pointed out that cheap food is an illusion because ultimately it’s paid for by the environment, by subsidies, or by your declining health. “Local and organic costs more but it’s worth more,” he said. Conventional food may be cheaper, but its nutritional values are also cheaper, down by 40 percent. The big challenge remains in the “food deserts” of inner cities, where people want fresh food but can’t get it in their neighborhood stores.

One possible solution (as farmer Gabriele suggested) is to grow it yourself. FRESH interviewed Will Allen, urban farmer in Milwaukee and 2008 MacArthur Fellowship recipient, who teaches people how to raise their own food. (CSA member Melissa Contreras attended his workshop earlier this year.) “It is important that everybody has access to healthy, sustainable food,” Allen said. And what better way to do it than grow hanging pots of microgreens, build a tank and stock it with tilapia, and compost with lots and lots of squirmy worms? Urban farming, according to Allen, is a “social justice movement, based on how people live and how we treat each other.”

FRESH ended on a hopeful note. Every decision made in the supermarket creates the future for land, diversity, farmers and our own bodies, all by voting with our dollars, explained agricultural economist John Ikerd. “It’s a new vision for the future that we don’t have to wait for,” he said. “We can transform the whole system one person at a time by choosing what we buy and what we eat right now.”

Scott Lewis, Melissa Contreras, Antonio Guadamuz

Scott Lewis, Melissa Contreras, Antonio Guadamuz, of Urban Oasis Project

Food, Inc. might scare you a bit, and FRESH will inspire you to plant some seeds. They both will certainly make you think. Hopefully those of us who do vote with our forks can help those who are stuck in food deserts or seas of nutritional ignorance. Over 400 people belong to the Redland Organics CSA. Hopefully our changes will ripple out to others, like our kids learning to make healthy choices, or friends who are willing to try something other than “foodlike substances” (to quote Michael Pollan).

As for the corporate food system, I suspect it won’t completely change until the growers change. This summer I was visiting relatives in southwest Wisconsin, in an area full of corn, wheat and soybean farms. They are family operations, and average about 100 acres. But since my last visit a few years ago, I saw more clusters of houses and less farms. The land gets sold because the farmer just can’t make a profit much longer, or the children don’t want to continue. Why don’t they switch to vegetable farming, I asked naively. Because that takes too much labor, I was told. Where are the farmer’s markets, I asked. Was told Hmong refugees who settled in the area grow their own kinds of vegetables and sell to each other, but that’s about it for local markets. Hmmm, maybe commodity farmers in Wisconsin need to see FRESH or talk to Salatin… I’m just sayin…

ana Sofia joanes article about making FRESH

Alexandra Duffy

Alexandra Duffy, urban farmer

Thanks to Alexandra Duffy, urban farmer, who obtained the DVD of FRESH and organized the screening. Get your own copy from the movie web site.

Food, Inc. will be available on DVD in November. Watch the trailer here.

Resources mentioned in audience discussions are veggieswap.com, squarefootgardening.com, veggietrader.com, localfoodmiami.ning.com, and eatwild.com.

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