Saturday, July 9, 2011

Will Allen Will Be In Columbus July 15-17, 2011

When it comes to the urban agriculture movement, few individuals are as important or as influential as Will Allen, the founder and president of the Growing Power non-profit in Milwaukee and Chicago. Last year, Time magazine named him as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. He won a $500,000 McArthur Foundation genius grant and a $400,000 job-creation grant from the Kellogg Foundation in 2008, won a $100,000 from the Ford Foundation in 2005, is a member of Bill Clinton’s Global Initiative and is an advisor to First Lady Michelle Obama.

Allen was not always famous. His parents were sharecroppers in South Carolina and he grew up on a small farm in Maryland. However, he then became a professional basketball player in Florida and Europe and then as a district manager for KFC and sales executive with Proctor & Gamble. However, while playing basketball and working in the corporate world, he always had a small plot to grow food. Then, in 1993 he suddenly bought a tiny farm and greenhouse in Milwaukee to teach urban kids how to grow food and the rest, they say, is history. A few years later, he partnered with Heifer International to create sustainable agricultural systems in urban centers like Heifer has created in third-world countries. Allen and 40 farmhands now grow 160 different crops in solar-powered greenhouses and a 40-acre farm. As reported by the The New York Times three years ago:

His Growing Power organization has six greenhouses and eight hoop houses for
greens, herbs and vegetables; pens for goats, ducks and turkeys; a chicken coop and beehives; and a system for raising tilapia and perch. There’s an advanced composting operation — a virtual worm farm — and a lab that is working on ways to turn food waste into fertilizer and methane gas for energy.

With a staff of about three dozen full-time workers and 2,000 residents pitching in as
volunteers, his operation raises about $500,000 worth of affordable produce, meat and fish for one of what he calls the “food deserts” of American cities, where the only access to food is corner grocery stories filled with beer, cigarettes and processed foods.

Allen sells food both in the inner cities and to upscale restaurants and sells to landscapers and suburbanites the massive amounts of compost he generates from wood chips and food waste donated by groceries and restaurants. He promotes creating good soil from food and fish waste and vermicasting – i.e., worm poop.

Allen also holds workshops in Milwaukee and at affiliates throughout the United States to spread the gospel of sustainable urban agriculture. This is what brings him to Columbus next weekend. Stiletto Gardener is the latest affiliate of Allen’s Growing Power and has paid to bring him to Columbus next weekend and to visit at least annually for the next five years. To help defray the cost of Stiletto Gardener bringing Mr. Allen to Columbus, Franklin Park Conservatory has arranged for a private reception, keynote address and two-day hands-on workshop.

On Friday, July 15, there will be a keynote address by Allen (who I am reliably informed can talk for hours and hours if left to his own devices) about urban agriculture at 6:00 p.m. Tickets are $35 each and are available to the public. Before the address, a reception will be held at the FPC at 5:00 p.m.. Limited to 50 people, the tickets are $50 each and include the cost of the keynote address.

From 8:30 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17, Allen will lead a two-day hands-on workshop on building a hoop house, aquaponics (raising food in water), composting, vermicomposting (with worms) and year-round food production. You will learn by actually helping to do all of these things. The cost will be $170 and will include breakfast and lunch each day and admission to the keynote address.

This event is being sponsored by FPC, Mid-Ohio Food Bank, Local Matters, Edible Columbus, Hounds in the Kitchen, Slow Food Columbus and OEFFA. Tickets can be purchased at For more information, contact or 614-859-4105.

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