“We grow soil,” Will Allen says when he speaks to a community of interested chefs, culinary professionals, and vendors of food products at a local Sysco food trade show. Allen is the founder and CEO of Growing Power, a nonprofit that has seen its 10-year old neighborhood gardeners turn into 30-year olds who come back to work for the organization. While the organization has grown considerably since its foundation in 1993, the focus remains the same. Will Allen and his team teach people how to farm sustainably in urban areas. In the process of growing soil, they grow food, improve people’s health, and provide jobs and education to teenagers and adults. In short, Growing Power transforms lives through food.
Allen grows soil, because he learned that soil is heavily polluted by toxic lead and other contaminants in certain areas. As the son of sharecroppers, he has the farmer’s wisdom reflected in the old adage, “as above, so below.” The plants are only as good as the soil. He has committed himself and Growing Power to grow nutrient-rich plants from nutrient-rich soil.
Growing Power combines worm castings, wood chips, coffee grinds, and sometimes brewers mash to make soil for different gardening purposes. The soil is rich and productive, so Growing Power harvests produce year round. In the fall and winter months, kale, squash, beets, and other winter vegetables are grown seasonally under hoop houses insulated by a special compost mix.
This year marks major milestones for Growing Power. Sysco Eastern Wisconsin recently donated the use of a 34-acre farm to Growing Power to provide local, healthy food to restaurants and schools. Vegetables on the farm include numerous varieties of tomatoes, including Indigo Rose, Big Cherry, Sun Gold, and other vegetables including eggplant, kale, cabbage, collards, and peppers.
Another milestone event is the campaign to build a five-story vertical farm and greenhouse in the City of Milwaukee on a two acre site. The schematics of the design for the urban farm are based on the principles of it current operations which include the sustainable use of aquaponics.
Much like its first crew of teenagers that it hired to garden, Growing Power is growing up. Read more about Growing Power on their website here.