Erika Allen, Chicago project manager of the urban agriculture nonprofit Growing Power, Inc., spoke last Friday at the KAM Isaiah Israel synagogue about the organization’s recent efforts to increase food quality and food literacy within Chicago communities. Growing Power was founded in 1993 in Milwaukee as an urban agriculture development and youth outreach program that teaches communities how to grow wholesome food easily and efficiently. The organization hosts a variety of workshops, training sessions, and community garden projects.
“Our systems provide high-quality, safe, healthy, and affordable food to people in all communities,” said Allen. Growing Power’s urban farm facility in Milwaukee boasts a lucrative and productive set-up that contains six greenhouses, several hoophouses for various greens and vegetables, an apiary with five beehives, and an outdoor hoophouse for goats, rabbits, and turkeys. The greenhouse beds, which can be up to ten stories high, are stacked vertically so that the nutrient-rich water can easily flow from the fish bed to the purifying gravel bed down to the growing beds. The greenhouses are also surprisingly cost-efficient. “Anyone could put up a greenhouse for $500 just by using tubing from Home Depot,” said Allen.
Growing Power is currently working on plans to open an urban farm in Chicago much like the facility in Milwaukee. The organization has already established a community garden in Jackson Park and an impressive 20,000 square-foot garden in Grant Park that has proved that urban food production can be, as Allen said, “beautiful, aesthetic, and productive.”
Growing Power has received attention locally, nationally, and globally for not just its social influence, but its economic and scientific impact as well. In 2008, founder and CEO Will Allen (Erika Allen’s father) received a $500,000 MacArthur Fellowship, also known as the “Genius Award.” “It’s a really long process, but it’s an important one,” Ms. Allen said, when asked by an audience member if growing food was truly more beneficial than just going to the grocery store. “Because, let me ask you,” said Allen, addressing the audience as a whole, “who here knows how to grow food?” Nobody raised their hand.