Growing Power Milwaukee

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Note: This article needs to be updated, as Growing Power dissolved in December 2017. See Discussion page for news sources.

Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization, was founded in 1993 by Will Allen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Growing Power is in the business of creating community food systems that provide safe, affordable and healthy food for members of the community. Growing Power teaches people to grow food sustainably in an urban environment with hands on training and demonstrations. Projects of Growing Power fall into three categories; projects and growing methods, education, technical assistance and growing of sustainable food and distribution of it. Growing Power's farms are located in, Milwaukee, Madison and Merton, Wisconsin. It has also expanded out to Chicago, Illinois and satellite establishments in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky and Mississippi. [1]


Growing Power was founded by Will Allen in 1993. Allen was the son of a sharecropper from South Carolina who grew up farming. He was an All-American high school basketball player who attended the University of Miami on a scholarship. After college, Allen was drafted into the ABA and played in Belgium. It was in Belgium where he reconnected with his love of farming. After Allen's professional basketball career ended in 1977, he moved to Oak Creek where his wife was originally from; he owned a small farm field but worked as a district manager for Kentucky Fried Chicken. After his stint at Kentucky Fried Chicken Allen worked at Proctor and Gamble, a consumer goods company, where in 1987 he won a marketing award for sales. In 1993 Allen shifted to analyzing supermarket products and excelled greatly. In 1993 Allen bought the location for the first Growing Power operation on the city's north side with the idea in mind to grown food indoor over the winters. It has now turned into the biggest urban growing operations in the U.S. due to Allen's drive and love of farming. [2]
Will Allen
Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, seen here in his alma mater, Miami, baseball hat. Source: Will Allen, January 9, 2010

In 2010 Allen was listed as one of Time Magazine's 100 most influential people in the world. In the brief article written by Van Jones, Jones describes Allen as a, "towering icon" in the urban farming movement. [3]


Allen founded Growing Power on two acres that contain fourteen greenhouses. This urban farm is located in a food desert, an area with little to no access of fresh and healthy food. It is located half a mile from the city of Milwaukee's largest public housing center. Allen farms using the process of aquaponics. This is an intricate system that connects fish water to the crops. Fish tanks containing perch and tilapia are located below the beds of the crops. Water pumps send up dirty fish water into the beds. The soil in the beds filter the crops taking the nutrients out as fertilizer and then the water drops back into the tanks clean [4]. This system was fairly cheap as it cost only $3,000 to build [5].

Allen creates the soil for his Urban farms also through sustainable processes. Growing Power collects six million pounds of spoiled food every four months. This wasted food will create 100,000 pounds of compost that creates high nutrient soil [6]. He uses Vermicomposting which is the practice of using different kinds of worms to help break down the compost and create high nutrient soil [7].
Aquaponics setup at Growing Power
Aquaponics system utilized at Growing Power. Source: Will Allen, June 9, 2008

The scale of Growing Power Milwaukee is very large for the small amount of land that it fills on the north side of Milwaukee. The farm grows food in 25,000 pots, growing thousands of trays of sprouts per week which brings in $30 for every square foot. The farm grows beets and chords along with spinach, arugula and cilantro. Besides growing just plants Allen's farm raises chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats and beehives [8]. Growing Power Milwaukee employs 35 people.

As Allen's farm operation grew he needed to add more land and more farms. He created more urban farms in Chicago and has expanded operations in Milwaukee. Growing Power now has more than twenty plots on 200 acres in Milwaukee and Chicago. Allen also has expanded training sites in 15 cities across the country. Growing Power's revenue in 2011 was $5 million which is vital to keep the operation going and expand his farming and training services [9].


One of Allen's main focuses when founding Growing Power was to not only grow healthy food sustainably in a food desert, but to help teach people how to do it themselves especially kids. Every year 10,000 people tour Growing Power farms and 3,000 participate in formal training. This is one of the reasons that Allen expanded his farm into other states to continue training [10].

Growing Power also has youth groups for children to join and they work hard on policy towards agriculture on the local, state and federal level. They also hold workshops onsite at the Milwaukee location and national conferences every year to help spread their initiatives [11].

Allen also thought that it was very important for growing power to bring services besides training to the community. These include providing fresh foods to grocery stores and restaurants in their local communities. Growing Power also wants to provide fresh food to people who do not have easy access to it. One of the programs created was the basket program. Every Friday Growing Power delivers 275-350 market baskets to more than twenty sites around Milwaukee for distribution. These baskets provide cheap, fresh, sustainable food to people who normally do not have access to it. Growing Power also is a part of the Rainbow Farming Cooperative. This was started by Will Allen and it is made up of 300 family farms from multiple states. The fresh food from this organization is what makes up the market baskets that Growing Power distributes [12].


On Growing Power's website the organization claims to have one simple goal. " grow food, to grow minds, and to grow community." Growing Power uses the services they provide to achieve this goal and continues to look to expand. They grow their sustainable food using natural processes in an urban environment. They grow minds by training people through their workshops. And they grow their community by getting a lot of people involved and providing fresh food in food deserts through programs like their market basket programs [13].


Growing Power is a non profit organization that relies heavily on donations and grant money. Allen and Growing Power have received many awards including: 2005 $100,000 Ford Foundation leadership grant, the 2008 MacArthur Foundation $500,000 "genius" award and the 2009 Kellogg Foundation $400,000 to create jobs in urban agriculture. These awards display the vast amount of effort Allen and the team at Growing Power have put in to make urban farming better for the community. The recognition and money the organization receives for these awards helps immensely [14].


In Ted Steinberg's book, Down to Earth, he outlines how the rise of fast food with the founding of McDonald's and other restaurants like it, the production of beef became industrialized and led to factory farms. Steinberg notes that with the separation of the production of meat and crops manure lost it's place and became a pollutant. The whole process became unsustainable. [15]

Growing Power and Allen are fighting this in an urban environment using manure properly, growing crops sustainably and raising livestock sustainably. Growing Power is doing this in food deserts providing alternatives to the fast food establishments that helped establish factory farms and unsustainable farming in America. By providing services such as market baskets Growing Power is bringing consumers the products they need. Allen and Growing Power are successfully fighting for sustainable farming and healthy eating in urban environments for not only low income people but all people.


  1. "About," Growing Power inc., accessed April 27, 2017,
  2. Elizabeth Royte, "Street Farmer," The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2009, accessed April 27, 2017,
  3. Van Jones, "The 2010 Time 100," Time Magazine, April 29, 2010, accessed April 27, 2017,,28804,1984685_1984949_1985243,00.html
  4. Elizabeth Royte, "Street Farmer," The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2009, accessed April 27, 2017,
  5. Roger Bybee, "Growing Power in an Urban Food Desert," yes! magazine, February 13, 2009, accessed April 27, 2017,
  6. Elizabeth Royte, "Street Farmer," The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2009, accessed April 27, 2017,
  7. Lisa Capretto, "Meet Will Allen, The Urban Farmer Starting His Own Revolution," The Huffington Post, May 4, 2015, accessed May 1, 2017,
  8. Elizabeth Royte, "Street Farmer," The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2009, accessed April 27, 2017,
  9. Byron Pitts, "Growing produce, and jobs in downtown Milwaukee," CBS News, August 9, 2012, accessed May 1, 2017,
  10. Roger Bybee, "Growing Power in an Urban Food Desert," yes! magazine, February 13, 2009, accessed April 27, 2017,
  11. "About," Growing Power inc., accessed April 27, 2017,
  12. Roger Bybee, "Growing Power in an Urban Food Desert," yes! magazine, February 13, 2009, accessed April 27, 2017,
  13. "About," Growing Power inc., accessed April 27, 2017,
  14. Elizabeth Royte, "Street Farmer," The New York Times Magazine, July 1, 2009, accessed April 27, 2017,
  15. Ted Steinberg, Down to Earth; Nature's Role in American History, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 187

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