Beets in the Hood

Meet Milwaukee’s veggie genius.

Photo: Courtesy Growing Power

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forget organic and locally grown food—in America’s poorest urban neighborhoods, it’s hard to find any affordable fruits and vegetables at all. Six grocery stores serve South Los Angeles’ population of 688,000. West Oakland has no supermarkets, but close to 60 liquor stores. But thanks to former nba draft pick Will Allen, a couple of American cities are experiencing a produce renaissance.

Sixteen years ago, Allen gave up a lucrative job working for Procter & Gamble’s corporate marketing department to found Growing Power, a tiny working farm in the heart of Milwaukee. “Right down the street was the largest housing project,” says Allen. “The major grocery store had pulled out—so I said, ‘This should be a great place to sell produce.'” He was right: Today, the farm sprawls across three city acres crammed with livestock pens, fish trenches, worm compost bins, and greenhouses constructed from pipe and plastic sheeting. Selling weekly farm-share boxes for as little as $14, Growing Power is one of the country’s most productive urban farms—it sold more than $200,000 worth of produce in 2007, and Allen has recently expanded his operations to Chicago.

Allen’s secret? Soil. While most organic farmers buy fertilizer, Allen makes his own with worm compost and fish waste for added nutrients. The recipient of a 2008 MacArthur genius grant, Allen, 60, believes that the key to boosting urban farms is playing not to social-justice concerns, but to bottom-line ones. “Everybody just says, ‘Oh, I can’t grow organic food cheaper,'” says Allen. “But we don’t have to pay $10 a pound for food—I charge $2 a pound and make money. You could be a millionaire.”

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is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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