Urban Farmer Promotes Sustainable Living

MacArthur fellow revolutionizing food production

An Honorable Mission

Environmental experts also are taking notice.

Jonathan Kaplan, senior policy specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, is very impressed with Growing Powers re-circulating system, calling it “clever.”

“This helps reduce the waste stream coming from the fish and reduce fertilizer use for the plants. Those results mean a lot for the environment,” Kaplan says.  Allen’s innovative techniques are a reason why the NRDC20on Tuesday named him as a winner in its food producer category for the first-ever “Growing Green Awards,” which recognizes leaders and innovators in the sustainable food field.  Allen also will be awarded a $10,000 cash prize.  The NRDC also honored individuals in a business leader and thought leader categories.

The NRDC honor comes a day before the Kellogg Foundation announced it would give Growing Power a $400,000 grant to create green jobs in the inner cities of Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee.  Both awards follow the MacArthur Foundation’s naming Allen among its 25 fellows last year, earning the urban farmer a $500,000 “genius” grant.  Growing Power also recently received a $100,000 green technology grant from the city of Chicago Department of Environment.

What’s That Smell?

Allen believes that providing good quality food is best accomplished through educating and mentoring of youth, which Growing Power does via its Youth Corps, which provides year-round gardening activities for neighborhood children ages 10 to 18 years, introducing them to healthy food options as well as possible career opportunities in the natural resources.

While many youth may not know more about food production beyond what they pick up at a grocery store or drive-thru window, Allen is working to change that, confident that once exposed, many inner-city children will opt for healthier, organic food selections.

“Sometimes they first complain about the smell.  When they get passed it, it’s hard to get their hands out of the dirt. The ones that complain about it the most in the beginning wind up being the leaders,” Allen says.

Anthony Jackson, 30, became involved with Growing Power 16 years ago through a work-study program offered through his church. Jackson, who sits on Growing Power’s board, describes Growing Power as an “eye-opening experience for kids who don’t get a chance to see things like” urban farming or get exposure to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Along with him, Jackson says he knows of eight to 10 other Youth Corps members who are walking the straight and narrow path thanks to their involvement with Growing Power.

“Will pushed discipline and hard work.  I went there and didn’t have any thoughts about college.  I didn’t even know what college was,” jokes Jackson, who now is completing graduate studies at Cardinal Stritch University.

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