Sunday, July 19, 2009

These Stories we wont see on Black In America 2!

My thanks to Star-Ledger's James Queally for chronicling the story on Black Wall Street in Newark, and Nigel Parry with the New York Times. I had difficulty goggling this story after seeing it on ABC News, Black Street started by Victor Baker, Hassan Keith and Jeffrey Montgomery at a time when good economic news is scarce, it's encouraging to hear about three young businessmen, all Rutgers alumni, staking a claim to the future in Newark's West Ward. There company has been constructing houses on five empty lots on South 9th Street between 11th and 12th avenues. Is a quasi green construction company rebuilding homes for African Americans in blighted Newark, NJ. The company described how the trio plans to serve working families in need of affordable housing with five duplex-style homes. These three men are making a difference in there respective community.

After seeing snippets of the upcoming Black in America 2, that appeared to be upbeat and inspirational, but we will see on Wednesday night once the entire segment is telecasted. I wanted to mention an individual whose efforts in the green/urban farms movement needs to be heralded. Will FarmerWILL ALLEN already had the makings of an agricultural dream packed into two scruffy acres in one of Milwaukee’s most economically distressed neighborhoods.

His Growing Power organization has six greenhouses and eight hoophouses 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.

For Mr. Allen, only the second working farmer to win the award, according to the foundation, his efforts are not meant simply to keep people well fed. He sees Growing Power as a way to organize people whose voices are rarely heard and to fight racism.

“I am a farmer first, and I love to grow food for people,” Mr. Allen said. “But it’s also about growing power.”

For 16 years, through sales, and proceeds from grants, he has extended Growing Power’s operations in Milwaukee and Chicago, spreading the gospel of urban farming around the world and training fellow agricultural dreamers.

An imposing 6 feet 7 inches tall, Mr. Allen, who grew up on a farm outside Washington, D.C., played professional basketball for a time after college, mostly in Europe. In 1993, he left a job with Procter & Gamble and bought a roadside farm in Milwaukee’s economically depressed north side — the last remaining registered farm in the city — and got local teenagers involved.

Now, along with its main farm in Milwaukee, Growing Power, a nonprofit group, has a 40-acre farm in a nearby town, and gardens throughout the city. The group also has operations in Chicago, including a garden at the Cabrini-Green housing project and urban farms in Grant and Jackson Parks.

In addition to retail sales at the Milwaukee headquarters, Growing Power sells to food co-ops, other retail stores and about 30 restaurants in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas.

The Growing Powers headquarters looks like a farm stand in need of a paint job and feels like a 1960s community center. Young and old mill about, shopping and waiting for a tour or a training session or a conference.

There is constant activity, with projects at various stages of completion. Mud-encrusted boots share space with pick-axes and pots of salad greens.

“It’s a crazy place,” Mr. Allen said.

As with any top-notch farmer, Mr. Allen takes special care with his soil. Using millions of pounds of food waste, his farm produces endless compost piles, which are then enriched by thousands of pounds of worms, essential to producing what he calls the highest quality fertilizer in the world.

“There are worms in every pot of soil and every tray of vegetables in this greenhouse,” Mr. Allen said.

His food, free of chemicals, tastes better, Mr. Allen said. “And that’s what the really good chefs understand.”

Paul Kahan, the chef and managing partner of the award-winning Chicago restaurants Blackbird and Avec, is one of the chefs who has been working with Mr. Allen’s organization.

“They are wonderful people and do some interesting things that fit in with what we are trying to do,” Mr. Kahan said. “We buy regular produce, such as tomatoes, but they do some things in particular that we really love: pea tendrils, baby beet greens, nasturtiums, baby mustard greens.”

Mr. Allen said he learned it all from his parents. “We’re having to go back to when people shared things and started taking care of each other,” he said. “That’s the only way we will survive.”

“What better way,” he mused, “than to do it with food?”

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