Street Farmer – Will Allen in The New York Times
Photo by Nigel Parry for The New York Times
By ELIZABETH ROYTE
July 1, 2009
New York Times
Today Allen is the go-to expert on urban farming, and there is a hunger for his knowledge. When I visited Growing Power, Allen was conducting a two-day workshop for 40 people: each paid $325 to learn worm composting, aquaponics construction and other farm skills. “We need 50 million more people growing food,” Allen told them, “on porches, in pots, in side yards.” The reasons are simple: as oil prices rise, cities expand and housing developments replace farmland, the ability to grow more food in less space becomes ever more important. As Allen can’t help reminding us, with a mischievous smile, “Chicago has 77,000 vacant lots.”
In 1993, Allen, looking to grow indoors during the winter and to sell food closer to the city, bought the Growing Power property, a derelict plant nursery that was in foreclosure. He had no master plan. “I told the city I’d hire kids and teach them about food systems,” he said. Before long, community and school groups were asking for his help starting gardens. He rarely said no. But after years of laboring on his own and beginning to feel burned out, he agreed to partner with Heifer International, the sustainable-agriculture charity. “They were looking for youth to do urban ag. When they learned I had kids and that I had land, their eyes lit up.” Heifer taught Allen fish and worms, and together they expanded their training programs.