Bringing the Farm to the City

There’s a new kind of farmer being trained… city farmers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ben Calhoun has the story of someone who has dedicated his life to training them:


There’s a new kind of farmer being trained…city farmers. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Ben Calhoun has
the story of someone who has dedicated his life to training them.

Will Allen has been farming all his life. But ten years ago, he decided he wanted to do
something different. So he started ‘Growing Power.’

You’ll find Growing Power’s Farm on a busy street on the northside of Milwaukee. It’s in
the middle of a row of houses and for a farm its pretty small.

Most days you’ll also find Will Allen there. Today, Allen’s giving a tour of the place. He
leads the group through Growing Power’s four green houses. There are rows of herbs,
eggplants, compost heaps, and boxes filled with worms.

“And where do you set the worms?”

“The worms, we started out with 35 pounds of worms some five years ago. Now we
have millions of worms.”

“I see.”

There’s a lot to see here.

Allen pulls together a lot of pieces to make his organization work.

Growing Power has been finding people to start urban farms for more than ten years –
something Allen says is actually harder than most people think, because he says farming
is harder than most people think.

“And when I sit down with kids’ groups I tell ’em, I say, ‘ Look at my hands. If you guys
are gonna do this work, your hands are gonna look like mine, if you’re truly gonna do it.’
I’m not talking about going into a class and growing a bean in a cup. I say, ‘You’re
gonna get hot, you’re gonna get sweaty, you’re gonna get dirty, you’re going to get
frustrated sometimes.’ But I say when you grow something, it’s gonna take all that pain

Allen’s found a lot of people who want to do that type of work.

Farming projects launched by Growing Power are scattered across the Midwest.

About 80 miles southwest of Chicago is the kind of place that Allen builds – it’s called
‘Growing Home.’ Growing Home is a farming project started by Chicago’s Coalition for
the Homeless. The Coalition buses homeless people here to grow corn, beans, and

Here Milton Marks sweats as he pulls black-eyed pea plants out of the dirt. Marks used
to be an auto mechanic. And he came to the project through a city job program. Marks
says it took a while to get used to working here on a farm.

“You know, at first it put me in mind of that picture, ‘Children of the Corn.’ (laughs)
So uh, I was kinda careful when I went up in the corn field – you know what I’m saying?
Yeah, I was kinda careful. But it was interesting and I liked the concept.”

Marks isn’t working alone, and just a few bean rows over, Ron Carter is stomping a
pitchfork into the ground.

Ron became involved through a homeless shelter in Chicago. He says he’s found a new
niche for himself working here on the farm.

“I love it, I love this type of work. You know, but at first, not in my wildest dreams.
Thought that I would be interested in this type of work. It’s been an overwhelming
feeling. It’s been really, really overwhelming.”

Carter’s spent his whole life in Chicago. He says the people he knows in the city, they
just don’t farm.

But in Chicago’s Southside Woodlawn neighborhood there’s another project actually
bringing farming into the city. Right in the middle of the residential neighborhood is
what looks like a home garden – maybe 50 feet by 60 feet. It’s filled with vegetables.

Carol Hughes started this space. As we walk around the plot of plants, she describes
what she thinks is already making her project a success.

“There’s a certain serenity about being in this space. Can’t you feel it? You know, even
though you’re here and there are cars swishing by on either side of us, and other elements
of the community are out (laughs), it’s just, there’s a serenity here, there’s a quiet here,
there’s the greenery. And I love seeing that light, I love seeing things grow.”

Hughes says right now most of the people working on her project are kids. But she says
the farm is getting lots of interest from all parts of her community.

Will Allen says that’s the kind of excitement that makes a project a success. He also
says it’s something that keeps him going.

“I see it happen, every year, year after year. But to see somebody else’s face . . . ‘ I can’t
believe I grew these peppers, or tomatoes, or corn.’ You know, that’s a beautiful thing.
That’s another one of the things that keeps me doing this.”

Allen says Carol Hughes’ project will be four times bigger next year than it is this year.
He says they’ll work to purify the soil so they can use all their land. All together,
Growing Power will continue working with about 35 projects starting up throughout the
Midwest. And they say they expect five more to be up and running by next season.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Ben Calhoun.