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Good food means 'our survival'

Urban farming pioneer speaks about the importance of soil and quality food during a conference at UW-P.

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Posted: Friday, September 13, 2013 12:00 am

PLATTEVIILE, Wis. -- On his drive to Platteville from the Milwaukee area Thursday morning, Will Allen noticed most of the farm fields were devoted to growing corn and soybeans. He wasn't impressed.

"There were no peppers, carrots or tomatoes," he said.

Allen, the author of "The Good Food Revolution (Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities)" and director of Growing Power, an urban farming project in Milwaukee, brought his revolutionary message to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. A keynote speaker at the third annual, two-day Midwest Culturally Inclusive Conference, Allen told the more than 200 people in Ullsvik Hall that agriculture of the future will use every square foot of what's available.

He's done that. Allen has taken vacant lots and abandoned buildings in large Midwestern urban areas and built high-tunnel hoop houses that enclose raised-bed vegetable gardens. The gardens produce safe, nutritious and affordable food year-round.

"We have to figure out the food thing; it's about our survival," he said. "Our good food is our medicine. How do you end the health care crisis? Eat nutritious food."

Allen developed a way to make compost, tons of it, from waste food, earthworms and other organic material. He thought it would be impossible to grow healthy food in polluted, urban soil.

"It's all about soil. It dictates the nutritional value of food," Allen said. "How to grow soil is so important, and there's so much waste in a city."

Allen also created a self-sustaining system of fish farming -- aquaponics -- in which protein-laden lake perch and tilapia are raised in water that also circulates to feed growing plants.

In May 2010, Time Magazine named Allen as one of the 100 World's Most Influential People. Growing Power employs a staff of 65 and is involved in more than 70 projects and outreach programs throughout the world.

"We provide people a living wage," Allen said.

Allen challenged young people to continue the food revolution.

"I felt really lucky to hear from him about the important work he is doing," said Katherine Charek Briggs, who works at UW-Madison. "Will's presentation really touched on class and race and multi-generational work."

Adam Compton, an eighth-grader at Platteville Middle School, was impressed.

"It was amazing because he is growing his own soil," he said. "He is doing what a lot of people can't do with a small amount of space. He's using the renewable resources instead of fossil fuels. He's cutting down the amount of fossil fuels used while producing good food, which is awesome."

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