What if… we could redefine farming?
May 15th, 2013 at 12:30pm by Alyson Shane+ | No Comments »
Will Allen is a farmer, but not in the conventional sense of the word: he doesn’t live on multiple acres outside of his hometown of Milwaukee, he doesn’t drive a tractor [insert farming reference here]. Instead, he uses his greenhouses, located within walking distance from the city’s largest housing project, to feed over 10,000 local residents.
In addition to feeding people with locally-grown food, Will’s farm also provided employment, offers training and education on polyculture, and functions as an example of the efficacy and success of urban farming.
Allen’s concern is simple: how do we address the problem of “food deserts” in urban societies? His farms, operated through his company Growing Power, are all located in food deserts -places where grocery stores aren’t easily accessible and, in many cases, where access to transportation is uncommon. Will’s solution is to produce food in cities year-round and to use the farms as a way to grow communities.
The farms focus on greenhouses and composting, and have grown to include aquaponics which allows them to produce fish such as tilapia, as well as vegetables and bedding plants which are used to beautify the surrounding community.
Most communities grow about 1% of their food locally – imagine if we transformed that to 10%.
Allen’s farms are built on sustainability: he buys mouldy hay from farmers and spoiled fruit from grocery stores, adds brewery waste and wood chips and composts the results into soil. He also relies heavily on worms, whom he uses not only as organic fertilizer, but also as a way to get kids involved with growing. He says:
“There’s so many bugs in a worm bin, you’re going to find something that you like.”
The farm can produce products at $5 a square foot, $200,000 an acre. Growing high revenue products like sprouts, it can be as high as $1.2 million an acre. This means that not only can urban gardening benefit the local community in terms of involvement, pride and opportunities to learn, but it can generate real income as well.
Allen also makes a concerted effort to reach out to youth within the community, using farming to teach basic skills such as reading and writing, combined with arts and crafts projects which allow the children to exercise their creative abilities. He also works with autistic children, immigrant children, and senior citizens, all of whom benefit from being able to help out on the farms. By providing summer jobs, the farms have helped fight drug-dealing, gang involvement, and transforming vacant lots into gardens has had an overall positive effect on the surrounding communities.
With all of these net positive effects in mind, from growing local food, to giving back to our communities, to helping and teaching others it’s worth asking ourselves:
What if we could redefine farming?