Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Growing Soil, Growing Community, Growing Power

The Gray to Green Festival back in September succeeded on many levels, but for me the most exciting part was first listening to and then getting to interview keynote speaker Will Allen. Allen defines charisma, a tall, enthusiastic, dedicated man who clearly has a passion for his work. And his work is amazing: developing urban agriculture in areas where most people have limited access to good food. His organization, Growing Power Inc, runs a large compost operation, a greenhouse that raises both produce and fish, a variety of programs that provide jobs for local teenagers, and a market selling the produce, eggs, meat, and even worms they grow. It's an impressive operation, not only for its complexity but also for its vision: "Inspiring communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound, creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time."

As Allen suggests in our conversation, pursuing this vision requires that we think about the environment, the science of food production, the business of managing a complex organization, and the social and political patterns that create hunger, crime, low expectations, and social divisions. As he notes, inequality, especially racism, fosters social problems, and truly grassroots efforts that don't just talk about problems but take concrete actions -- as Growing Power does -- can begin to create change, not just for those who work with the organization but for the community at large.

There's a local version of this: Grow Youngstown. That effort is fairly new, but Allen's model provides important inspiration and guidance. Someday, we may see urban farms in Youngstown helping to reduce hunger, improve the local economy, and build a stronger community right here.

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