Will Allen, a former professional basketball player turned farmer, educator and activist, means it when he says that his goal is to make sure “everybody in the world has access to the same healthy, safe, affordable food.”Does he really mean everybody in the world, and is such a thing even possible? “Everybody,” Allen says firmly. “Of course it’s possible, but people have to take responsibility to make sure that happens. It’s going to take a huge grassroots revolution to make that happen. It’s starting to happen, but it’s gonna take a long time. We gotta be patient, but we gotta keep moving forward.” From their base in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Allen and his daughter Erika have been pioneering this work toward food justice through Growing Power, a unique organization that models how to grow and distribute ecologically and culturally appropriate food, as well as training communities locally and worldwide in sustainable food production.
Growing Power consists of an urban farm, along with a store that sells organic and affordable Black Southern foodstuffs, food from the local Hmong and Oneida Indian communities, a “Market Basket” program that delivers $12 bags of organic produce and has become a national model for linking inner-city consumers with organic farmers, youth training programs, and ongoing innovations for urban agriculture. For instance, they developed an “aquaponics” system to raise tilapia fish in simply constructed tanks where vegetables both filter the water and get fertilized by the fish waste. One low-tech, cheaply produced system yields a complete source of protein and fresh produce. “It’s about reinventing the way food is grown, showing people that we could do it in urban areas, too,” Erika Allen says. “We’re working to provide the fertility and systems so that you can grow anywhere from rooftops to parking lots and containers, so that people can be self-sufficient in their food needs.” In a world where millions are being displaced and living in overcrowded, expanding cities, the need for year- round, sustainable urban food production goes beyond America’s inner cities. At the time of this interview, the Allens were giving a tour to a group of farmers from Macedonia and getting ready to travel to Kenya and Ghana to help establish aquaponic projects. Next for Growing Power is to launch a “Growing Food and Justice Initiative” that will bring together a network of social justice groups to explicitly address a “food system that is unjust and very racist,” explains Erika. “We just see food as a really powerful organizing tool. It deals with land, housing, transportation, economics, everything. For us, it’s really a tool of transformation.