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Growing Power

Everybody seems to be talking about urban farming these days, from Michelle Obama to my kale-growing neighbors to New Urbanist developer Andres...

Everybody seems to be talking about urban farming these days, from Michelle Obama to my kale-growing neighbors to New Urbanist developer Andres Duany, who recently proclaimed, "Agriculture is the new golf."These conversations rarely go very far before someone mentions Growing Power. Because, despite all the buzz about agriculture in the city, few have truly succeeded in making urban farming work at scale. But Growing Power has-and then some. Led by the dynamic Will Allen, a former professional basketball player, Growing Power first laid down roots (pun entirely intended) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1995. Think Milwaukee and your brain might veer more towards beer more than broccoli, but for the last fifteen years Growing Power has overseen an expanding network of working farms around the city that are producing and distributing tons of food each year. And what started in Milwaukee has since expanded to other sites in Wisconsin and Illinois, with Growing Power-affiliated farms in both rural and urban settings. The organization's success in providing equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food offers a terrific model for thousands of aspiring urban farms across the country. And Allen, who once worked in corporate marketing for Procter & Gamble, has been such a pioneer in urban agriculture that he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation "Genius" grant in 2009.Allen's philosophy is simple: food should be grown where the people are. In the context of modern agriculture-with its enormous supply chains and industrial-sized farms located thousands of miles from market-that's a fairly heretical notion, but it supports a growing trend: the development of regional, sustainable food sheds. In tackling the larger, systemic issues of food production in this country, Growing Power isn't just growing food–it's working to solve a maze of interconnected issues, and enabling communities to produce, market and distribute their own food in a sustainable manner.Growing Power offers a range of programs benefiting a broad range of constituencies: rural and urban, young and old, farmers and consumers. In an effort to make healthy produce a regular part of everyone's diet, Growing Power offers low-income residents weekly boxes of produce at differing quantities and price ranges (approx. $9-$28/week). The organization is also experimenting with aquaponics (a method of growing crops and fish together in a re-circulating system) to cultivate more sustainable seafood alternatives such as tilapia and yellow perch. These and all of Growing Power's efforts support the organization's larger mission of developing new and creative ways to improve the diet and health of the urban poor. Next month, look for Will Allen's manifesto, "A Good Food Revolution," in a new edition of architect and activist Fritz Haeg's book, Edible Estates: Attack on the Front Lawn.Photo courtesy of Growing Power.This post originally appeared on, as part of GOOD's collaboration with the Pepsi Refresh Project, a catalyst for world-changing ideas. Find out more about the Refresh campaign, or to submit your own idea today.

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