African Americans, like any other migrant or immigrant group moving from rural, farming communities to cities, have over time lost touch with their rural roots and rural knowledge and skills. In addition, a combination of the economic downturn in 2008, the continued explosion in the health problems of urban dwellers, blight in the urban core of former manufacturing centers in what is now called the rust belt, and other factors has lead to a resurgence of people planting vegetable gardens and orchards in many cities in America.
Two people responsible for educating the public on the importance of urban farming and implementing programs in support of this work are First Lady Michelle Obama and Urban Farmer Extraordinaire Will Allen. Michelle Obama turned a portion of the White House gardens into a place where not only could the White Chef and Kitchen use the bounty, but a place where children could be brought in to plant, harvest, learn about, and eat homegrown healthy food. This demonstration garden has set an example for home gardeners around the country. To highlight the successes of the White House gardens and kitchen, Mrs. Obama has written a book, American Grown, which can be purchased here.
Will Allen grew up on a farm in Rockville, Maryland, went off to college and a brief basketball career, before returning to his wife’s hometown, Milwaukee, Wisconsin and pursuing a corporate career. The parents of Allen’s wife, Cindy, owned a farm just south of Milwaukee where Allen did some farming, selling the excess produce at farmers’ markets.
The beginning of what was to become Will Allen’s life’s work occurred when he purchased a derelict nursery. Thus began Growing Power, Inc., an organization dedicated to bringing agricultural knowledge to the inner city.
Growing Power has set up urban farms in a number of American cities, involving youth, the elderly, the poor, the enthusiastic. People have learned about aquaponics, composting, bee keeping, vertical integration in farm systems. Research is being conducted by locals, amateurs, and food scientists alike. There are regional training centers around the country
|Will Allen with youth|
Will Allen speaks around the country to community groups establishing urban farms, such as the seven-acre Beacon Food Forest in Seattle, the largest of its kind in the US. His enthusiasm has encouraged the US Department of Agriculture in its efforts to bring healthy, fresh produce to fresh food “deserts”. University students, such as those at the University of Washington, have created on-campus farms. This interest in urban farming is found in apartment window boxes and rooftops; empty lots; home renters’ and owners’ gardens; community allotments; derelict factories. Will Allen has sown the seeds of empowerment, helping people re-learn that most basic of human skills: how to properly feed oneself and one’s community.