Will Allen is a man to know. The recipient of one of last year’s MacArthur “genius grants”, the former NBA player has become one of the world’s foremost experts in urban agriculture, running the unassuming “Growing Power” organization on Milwaukee’s far north side. Will and Growing Power have perfected methods of urban farming that produce impressive quantities of fresh produce (including farmed fish) that winds up on the plates of folks who otherwise don’t have access to quality, healthy food.
The organization also runs a successful CSA program, supplies some of the finer restaurants in Milwaukee and Chicago, offers workshops for interested parties, and employs and educates inner city youths with little opportunity to learn about healthy eating and the idea of “food justice”.
Now, major corporations are starting to notice, and that’s a good thing.
As reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week, several local corporations including Rockwell Automation, Kohl’s Department Stores, and Aurora Healthcare have partnered with Growing Power to offer improvised farmers markets to company employees during lunch hours – providing a source of income to growing power and exposing office workers to better-than-the-usual-fast-food options. The markets are not restricted to office workers, and neighborhood residents are invited and encouraged to join in. In some neighborhoods, such as the one near Rockwell (a “food desert” according to Allen) they are the only quality produce available within a reasonable distance.
To top things off, Kohl’s has furthered the partnership by planting 4 vegetable gardens at their corporate headquarters which will be learning tools for the children who spend their summer months in day care while their parents work – beats watching videos. The produce will be donated to a food bank when harvested.
Partnerships like this one are low cost and low effort on the part of the corporation, and may seem somewhat on the trivial side of things. Still, the extra exposure and help this is giving a venerable group like Growing Power is worthy of commendation – it’s better than a simple donation, it’s involving employees (even the children of employees) directly in the quest for a more holistic, healthy lifestyle. It also makes more obvious the disparity that exists between the way a typical corporate employee might live and the way some people in less financially prosperous communities live. The hope here is that some of that wisdom trickles up the corporate ladder. Perhaps we’ll even see the CEO out there checking on the tomatoes some day.