In a recent legislative move by the Milwaukee (Wis.) Common Council, Will Allen’s nationally recognized urban farm, Growing Power, Inc., received $425,000 to build 150 hoop-house gardens on vacant land within the city.
Growing Power’s proposal, called “Growing Capacity for the Green Economy,” was made in February 2011 to Milwaukee’s African-American Male Unemployment Task Force, whose mission is to work with community organizations and businesses to reduce joblessness among black males in Milwaukee, Wis. The hoop-house gardens will be tended by beginning urban farmers, creating 150 new jobs that will be filled by unemployed people in Milwaukee. Recent estimates have put Milwaukee’s African-American male-unemployment rate at more than 25 percent, one of the highest rates in the nation.
“This is a strong beginning,” Allen says. “To do this program right, we will need three times this amount. Our workers will need training, and we will need support staff, in addition to the hoop houses themselves.”
But Allen is optimistic about what lies ahead.
“We can find this money,” he says. “The low overall cost for the benefits the program will bring—both in terms of creating jobs and providing fresh, nutritious food for urban families—will hopefully be a powerful formula for success.”
Allen predicts that the program will serve as a model for low-cost, minimal-footprint urban farming in other cities and become a significant component of green job-creation efforts in the U.S.
Through the Growing Capacity for the Green Economy Project, Growing Power will impact Milwaukee’s population in several ways:
- Create a total of 150 full-time jobs—50 jobs added each year over the next three years—for workers in the emerging field of sustainable urban agriculture.
- Provide effective job preparation in the fields of intensive sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, environmental education and community-food-systems development.
- Improve the quality of life for inner-city children and their families by inspiring and motivating parents and young adults with the preparation to immediately enter the green workforce.
“Milwaukee is a world leader in urban agriculture,” says Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “This effort combines the benefits of increasing employment opportunities with all the advantages to Milwaukee residents of locally grown good food. Growing Power has done some great work in Milwaukee, and with this project, we are optimistic that the great outcomes will continue.”
Growing Power will match 100 percent of the $425,000 grant, according to Allen. However, he predicts that for the initiative to be a success, much more will be needed to pay for the training and materials necessary to ensure the proper care of the 150 year-round food production sites throughout the city.
Allen founded Growing Power in 1993 to produce and deliver healthy food to low-income urban populations.