Urban Farming Aims to Keep Food Local
According to Will Allen, our nation's produce is fifty percent less nutritional than it was in the 1950s. The combined effect of delayed transportation and over-processed soil of farmed vegetables has resulted in what Allen describes as "a situation where again we have the most unhealthy country that we've ever had."
On Oct. 8, Will Allen conducted an exclusive presentation at SMC to speak about his solutions to the urban food epidemic. For the past 16 years, Allen has been working along with his nonprofit environmental organization, Growing Power, to educate communities on how to farm otherwise unusable inter-city plots, transforming them into city gardens to provide produce to the local population. Using the techniques it teaches, the organization provides a dependable source of fresh produce to its local community.
Allen's organization has won a variety of awards, including the MacArthur Foundation Genius Award and has contributed to gardening projects across and beyond the United States. The organization is starting to break ground in Kenya, Ukraine, and other countries around the world.
During his detailed presentation, Allen stressed the need for social responsibility and a willingness to commit to action, rather than mere acknowledgement.
"We've done enough feasibility studies," said Allen. "If somebody says to me again, ‘Let's study that,' I'll chase them out of the room. We've done enough of that. People are dying. We need action."
His solution is simple: keep food local. He explained the variety of benefits a local system would provide. Communities would no longer need to rely on produce from great distances, which would cut the need for fuel as well as provide fresher, healthier food to urbanites. This would also provide local jobs and dependable income to local residents, as the cost of running a garden would be adequately supported by the sales of its produce.
Each step of the process of growing food is important and Allen applies his principles from the ground up, starting with the soil. Using food waste, woodchips, and even barley waste from local breweries, he explained how usable compost can be made in about a year. Vermiculture, or worm farming, also plays a vital role as the castings of which provide nutrient-rich, natural fertilizer.
Most importantly, Allen's method is cost-efficient and versatile. The soil can be used inside "hoop-houses," a less-costly alternative to standard greenhouses, which are made of hoop-like supports with plastic tarps stretched over them. These can be custom-built to accommodate however much space is available. Inside, plants grow in a bookshelf-like system, called tiered farming, which utilizes every precious inch.
Allen's vivid PowerPoint presentation showed his successes. Slide after slide displayed depleted landscapes transformed into lush gardens brimming with produce. Even in the most exhausted of urban areas, healthy gardens were able to grow. In some instances, vacant lots that had been known for crime activity were renovated so beautifully that neighborhood crime diminished.
Allen spoke of the healing properties of gardening by relating his experiences with juvenile delinquents, seniors, and people with disabilities who all benefited from his program. Speaking specifically about rehabilitation of the incarcerated, Allen remarked about the importance of touching soil as part of the curriculum. "I feel that it is a very spiritual thing to do," said Allen. "It helped them to get in touch with their feelings. They had taken so much from society and now they could finally give back."
SMC enthusiastically received Will Allen's speech. The auditorium, located in Art Room 214, was filled to capacity with attendees. "I think that is what college is about," said Sherri Bradford of SMC's Black Collegians Program, speaking at the event. "It's for you to have the access to information and the most up-to-date speakers that can enhance your mind."
Professor David Burak, who helped organize the event, was extremely grateful to the Associated Students, who helped make the event possible. "Without the AS, we couldn't have done it," said Burak.
After the event, faculty and members of SMC's Club Grow, currently the driving force behind SMC's own community garden, led Allen to the campus' vermiculture machine near the cafeteria dumpsters, where student waste is composted. "This is a nice system that can support the college well," said Allen.
Visit the Growing Power Web site (http://www.growingpower.org) to learn more about Allen's organization.