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Milwaukee's urban farmer

One man’s vision: to bring sustainable agriculture to inner cities.

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Whenever Will Allen arrives in a neighborhood, scores of curious children seem to come out of nowhere to see what he’s about. His pickup truck carries spades, hoes, earthworms, seeds, and a truckload of compost – all the components needed to make a garden.

Mr. Allen knows a garden not only gives inner-city kids something to do, but it can also feed them good, nutritious food and invigorate the community at the same time.

This vision of symbiosis between an urban setting and locally grown food is what prompted Allen, a 6 ft., 7 in. former professional basketball player, to purchase the last three farm acres in Milwaukee 16 years ago and invite inner-city youth to help him grow vegetables.

“Food is at the very foundation of community development,” Allen says.

His efforts have paid off in significant ways. Today his nonprofit, Growing Power, operates a handful of urban farms and community growing centers around Milwaukee and downtown Chicago.

In addition, Growing Power is helping to develop urban gardening sites and training centers in several other states and two international centers in Kenya and Ukraine. Its website, www.growingpower.org, posts research on its farming techniques as well as various how-to gardening videos.

Allen’s low-tech, low-cost farming approach has earned him a reputation as a leader in the urban gardens and sustainability movement and a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

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