Farming Outside the Box: Growing Power Thrives in Milwaukee

In 1993, Will Allen purchased an abandoned nursery on the north side of Milwaukee. Hoping to employ local teenagers and grow fresh food for his community, he transformed two acres into a productive, sustainable farm named Growing Power. Fifteen years later, Allen became the second farmer ever to receive a McArthur Genius Grant, honored for his innovative work in sustainable food systems and agricultural education.

Though additional sites have developed throughout Wisconsin and Chicago, Milwaukee remains the headquarters for Growing Power projects. Allen’s farm currently includes six greenhouses (home to vegetables, herbs, hydroponic fish runs, and vermicompost bins), four hoop houses for vegetables and vermicomposting, three hoop houses for poultry, an apiary with five bee hives, outdoor areas for livestock, and an anaerobic digester to generate energy from farm waste. Individuals and school groups are welcome to tour the farm’s facilities, and Allen also offers volunteer and internship opportunities.

Allen’s vision of a healthier Milwaukee is embodied in the farm’s motto: “Grow, Bloom, Thrive.” Everything is raised to organic standards, free from synthetic fertilizers and other chemicals. His application of vermiculture, for example, not only ensures that soil is nutrient-rich, but also guarantees that soil has not been exposed to toxins such as lead. (Milwaukee has long struggled with high blood-lead levels in children, predominantly from peeling lead-based paint in older homes.) Allen is highly selective about his seed vendors, and plants only organic seeds in each of the farm’s 15,000 pots.

Visit Growing Power's website for more information about the aquaponics system in Allen's hoop houses. The decision to raise fish alongside vegetables in just one example of the innovative farming practices at Growing Power.

While the Milwaukee farm predominantly serves city residents, Allen is also vocal about food justice and sustainable agriculture on a national scale. He speaks about environmental responsibility, the development of local food networks, and the importance of eliminating food deserts. After receiving the MacArthur Genius Grant in 2008, Allen won a Ford Foundation Leadership Grant in 2009 and appeared on TIME Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of 2010. He continues to speak across the country, and will be speaking at a conference in Washington, DC on June 18.

Click here for more information about Will Allen and Growing Power.

Click here for Growing Power’s schedule of upcoming events, and look for a chance to meet Will Allen in your hometown!

Apiary: Sometimes called a “bee yard,” apiaries are areas designated for bee hive management. While beekeepers can harvest honey from the hives, many farmers maintain hives to assist with crop pollination.

Food desert: An area isolated from fresh and nutritious food, food deserts are often found in low-income, urban areas. They lack access to even conventional supermarkets, and fast food restaurants or convenience stores may be the only local sources of groceries.

Hoop house: A low-cost alternative to traditional greenhouse structures, hoop houses have a plastic roof stretched over flexible piping. The plastic retains heat absorbed from the sun, allowing plants to grow even during cold weather.

Vermicomposting: A composting process that allows worms to break down organic matter into nutrient-rich fertilizer.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: