Growing Power: Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way

by Melissa Ida

You could say that Will Allen’s food revolution was rooted in his family’s sharecropping background. Like many African Americans before him, Southern sharecroppers migrated to the industrial North to escape the plights and injustices that had plagued them and their ancestors for several generations. Born as the son of a sharecropper in Maryland, Will Allen grew up exposed to farming, yet pining for basketball. He experienced a successful, yet brief career of college and professional basketball. While playing basketball abroad in Europe, namely in Belgium, Allen found himself drawn to the farmers and the land in the countryside. He soon found himself taking up the practice of farming when off the court. He felt there was something both pleasurable and promising about turning up the fertile earth and tending to the fruits of one’s harvest.

In 1977, Allen retired from basketball and relocated to Oak Creek, Wisconsin, with his wife and three children. With some farmland on his wife’s side of the family, Allen farmed on the side while taking on jobs in the corporate world: first as a district manager for Kentucky Fried Chicken and later in marketing and sales for Procter & Gamble. His natural skill as a salesman shone through in the numerous awards he received from both employers. In 1993, he harnessed those worldly skills, along with his ardent passion for cultivating the land, and founded Growing Power, an organization whose two to three acre allotment has the distinction of being the final strip of farmland left within the city limits of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Two years later, Will Allen’s organization became Growing Power Inc., a nonprofit center designed for building community food security systems and urban agriculture training.

In the twenty years since its implementation, Growing Power has seen its share of struggles and triumphs. With the help of dedicated volunteers, generous grants, and his own grand vision, Will Allen has started to shift the national paradigm of what an ethical, sustainable food system currently is to what it should be. Rather than just identifying the problems with our food system, Allen has sought out effective solutions that can and will work, with enough commitment and determination. His personal motto “Grow. Bloom. Thrive.” is reflected in the core values of Growing Power.

The foundation of his operation really does exist at ground level. With greenhouses containing 20,000 plants and vegetables, in addition to thousands of fish and a plethora of rabbits, ducks, goats, chickens, and bees, Allen’s practice of urban agriculture thrives on unique practices such as vermiculture, polyculture, and aquaponics. He fashions his own compost from red wriggler worms and food scraps, using worm castings as the fertilizer for his soil. The fish and certain plants there, such as watercress, share a symbiotic relationship: the waste water from the fish circulates to the watercress, which in turn purifies it and makes it reusable. Just as the plants and animals there thrive within an ecologically savvy network, so do the relationships between the workers of Growing Power and the people that come there.

Running Growing Power as a nonprofit organization, Allen relies on grants to help pay for its sixty-five staff members. Besides its employees, Growing Power is host to twenty-five interns and apprentices and countless volunteers and students. Its effect on community outreach has been empowering and impressive. By setting up an urban farm next to the largest low-income housing project in Milwaukee, Allen has been able to cater to the needs of the impoverished and malnourished. He provides healthy, fresh produce and meats at affordable prices within walking distance. Community members are more than welcome to volunteer in his greenhouses, where they can learn to grow their own food and better their own lives in doing so. The neighborhood’s youth has always been a major target for Allen, who believes that providing them with the chance to share a communal garden will create better, opportunity-rich lives for them. From juvenile delinquents to those using government food programs, children and teenagers from all walks of life can come to Growing Power and gain practical skills in self-reliance and environmentalism, such as composting, gardening, construction, sustainability, and cooking. These applications help prepare children for higher education and future jobs. By working in a social environment and combining mental and physical skills, they can see firsthand the results of their efforts and decisions in maintaining a sustainable food system. Literally, they are growing a better future not only for themselves, but for the rest of their community too.

Growing Power has thrived in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Milwaukee. With only fast-food restaurants and convenience stores in the area, those with little to no income and lack of transportation have been hard pressed to find ways to eat healthfully. At one point, Allen stated that the only supermarket offering wholesome foods and fresh produce was three miles away from the low-income housing project, pointing out that three miles is a long way when you don’t have a car. Allen took it upon himself, then, to establish a way to provide healthy food at low prices for those most in need of them. By reaching out to community vendors and businesses, he worked relentlessly to sell his products at farmers markets, local restaurants, cooperatives, food shelters, and even through a mobile delivery service. His one-of-a-kind Market Basket Program is best described as a mix of a community supported agriculture program and a mobile grocery store. It delivers locally grown produce on a weekly basis to the neighborhoods of Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee. Most of the products come from Growing Power, Rainbow Farmer’s Cooperative, and other small-scale, family or locally owned wholesalers. In light of all his ambitious endeavors, Allen has achieved much.

Since 1998, Will Allen has been no stranger to praise. His countless awards and recognition include, but are not limited to, the MacArthur Foundation’s Genius award, being listed as one of Time magazine’s “World’s 100 Most Influential People,” and being invited to speak on behalf of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” initiative at the White House. He has been invited to speaking engagements all over the nation and has made notable media appearances on programs and networks such as PBS, WPR, and CNN. Just last year, Allen reached a milestone in his life with the publication of his book The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities, which gives an insightful look into Allen’s life and the history of Growing Power. Despite all his success and never-ending schedule of work and events, Allen remains firmly grounded. His vision for Growing Power is still expanding, with workshops, speaking engagements, and, of course, urban farming all in the works. Will Allen is truly one of the forerunners of the good food revolution. And if his remarkable journey proves anything, it is this: where there is a will, a passion, a vision, there is a way to achieve it.

Editor’s note: Will Allen will be speaking at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Forum Series April 17.

Happy Shake

Want a pick me up, make my day, keep me full, and help me stay healthy kind of breakfast?  Eat this!!!

• Liquid Base. Start with 1/2 cup water.

• 4 cups of loosely packed spinach.

• A Good FAT. You need the good fat for metabolizing the spinach and keeping you satisfied for hours. You may choose from 1

• Tbsp. coconut oil, 1 Tbsp. hemp seed or 1 raw egg. (You may want to start with a bit less water if using an egg.)


• 1 Tbsp. Maca for stamina, endurance and mental clarity.

• 1 Tbsp. Raw Cacao for that HAPPY BLISS feeling.

• A great option for some additional alkalizing GREENS … Add 1 Tbsp. Vitamineral Green.

Blend all ingredients into your “green sludge”. Add 2 cups frozen fruit of your choice to your “green sludge”. BLUEberries+GREEN “sludge” = Chocolate BROWN!

Note: Superfoods like Maca and Cacao are very powerful foods. These foods border medicine. This is a good time to do your own research on these two amazing foods. Start in small doses and listen to your body.

Raw Maca Root: Incan Superfood
Maca root has been used in indigenous Andean societies as a source of nourishment and healing for thousands of years, and continues to be one of the most appreciated superfoods today. Used to increase stamina, boost libido, and combat fatigue, maca root has long been regarded as a highly adaptogenic food. Navitas Naturals Raw Maca Powder is the raw and natural form of this special root — gently dried and ground to preserve its vitality and nutritional structure. With an earthy taste that is slightly nutty with a hint of butterscotch, maca is easily blended into superfood smoothies, various milks, chocolates, or mixed into flour for dessert recipes. For more info see

Cacao: Chocolate Nutrition
Navitas Naturals Cacao Powder brings the chocolate factory to your kitchen, as it instantly transforms smoothies, desserts, pies and other countless recipes into the healthiest chocolate indulgence around. Put a spoonful into your next treat and see why this super food has been enjoyed for thousands of years. Plus, with no added sugar, Navitas Naturals Cacao Powder is an exceptionally healthy way to stock up on antioxidants and important minerals like magnesium and iron. Check out the cacao recipe section for great ideas and make your life as chocolate-y as you please!

For more info see

Your Food Cravings Unlock the Answers

by Maggie Christopher

Many people try to use willpower to improve their diet and lose weight. Unfortunately, most people end up failing because it is very difficult to maintain a self-induced willpower over an extended period of time.

Consider a different approach instead. Within your very cravings lie the keys to unlock true success for long-term health and weight loss. Trust and understand that the body is a brilliant machine that needs certain ingredients to run well. If you start to give your body what it needs, you will notice that your cravings will lessen considerably. For example, if you eat too much animal protein, you may start to notice sugar cravings. This is because your body wants to maintain a pH balance of 7.0 and it will continually try to adjust to reach this level. The Chinese philosophy of yin and yang comes into play with cravings. Animal protein is very yang, so you may crave yin foods such as sugar if your body is out of balance. Another example would be if you regularly crave fatty foods like ice cream or fried foods, this could be your body letting you know that you need to introduce more healthy fats into your diet such as nuts and avocados.

Many people get frustrated and feel out of control with their cravings which can lead to negative thinking because they feel they are weak and have no willpower. This is not the case, however. The body is actually very logical. You just need to know how to work together with it. It helps to simplify nutrition. The key is to get a healthy supply of vitamins and minerals from varied food sources because the body was made to extract nutrients from real food. So the more natural foods you put into your body (whole grains, greens, vegetables, fruits, beans, plant-based proteins, naturally raised meats), the fewer cravings you will experience. Did you read this last sentence and say, “But I don’t LIKE any of these foods!” That’s ok. You can slowly introduce these foods and you will notice that your cravings will lessen. Many people are overwhelmed with making changes to their diet. But remember, the reason you eat fast food, processed foods and desserts is because you have an intense craving. If you remove the nutritional reason behind the craving, you will find that you naturally opt for healthier foods.

In addition to learning how to give your body the nutrients it needs, there is another key component to understanding your cravings. Let me share an example. If you have a terrible day at work, do you think you will arrive home and want to eat salmon, brown rice and green beans? I doubt it. You might instead mindlessly eat whatever you have available in the cupboards or refrigerator. So your emotional well-being is tied to your cravings. There are four key areas to focus on when you want to reduce your cravings. They are career, exercise, spirituality and relationships. Think about it: If these areas in your life are not going well, you may find that you’re not eating healthy. If you want to be in a relationship and you are single, you may eat an entire sleeve of Girl Scout cookies to get some sweetness in your life. If you hate your job, you may decide to stop off for happy hour instead of going home and eating a good meal. The philosophy of yin and yang also applies to lifestyle. For example, if your day was too yang (too busy and stressful) you are likely to crave yin foods such as alcohol.

Many people want overnight results when it comes to reaching their health goals, but unfortunately this approach rarely creates long-term, healthy habits. Take it slow. Set small, achievable goals and continue to move forward. Health is not a destination — it’s a journey and a lifestyle.

Maggie Christopher is a certified holistic nutrition counselor in St. Paul. She specializes in digestive issues, sugar cravings and weight loss. Her program allows people to comfortably embrace a healthier way of eating and living. Call for a one-hour, complimentary consultation to learn more. Maggie Christopher, CHNC,, 651.231.1360

The Truth About Imported Organic Foods

by Heather Routhbauer Wanish

Many people today are trying to create healthier lifestyles by exercising and eating differently. For those who wish to eat healthier, organic foods are a popular choice. However, there is reason to believe that all organic foods are not created equally. And, more importantly, consumers need to realize that all imported organic foods may not necessarily be organic.

Consumers tend to purchase organic foods because they are grown and processed without synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics, added hormones, or genetically engineered ingredients. Organic foods have increased in popularity in the last two decades. According to a study conducted by Stanford scientists, and reported by Food Safety News, the market for organics in the United States was worth $3.7 billion in 1997. However, by 2010, that number had grown tremendously to $26.7 billion.

Part of the appeal for eating organic foods also has to do with trying to eat locally grown foods from farmers markets and other food cooperatives. However, in some climates, it is virtually impossible to eat locally grown foods during the winter months. At that point, consumers must decide if they are willing to purchase organic foods that have been imported into the country.

If consumers view imported organic foods from a sustainability perspective, then imported foods may not be the best option. For example, consider the air polluting fossil fuels used by the transportation methods to get the food to the United States. Next, organic foods that make a long journey to this country have also lost nutrition value along the way. And, according to Natural Life Magazine, some of the vitamins and antioxidants may break down when exposed to air and light.

According to the World’s Healthiest Foods (, all food imports or food ingredient imports into the United States must meet the national organics standards in order to be certified as organic in the United States. However, being certified as organic in the United States is not the same as being certified organic in other countries. Why does this matter to consumers? Because of the increasing popularity of organic foods, importing organic ingredients is more common. This allows the industry to keep up with the increasing demand from consumers.

The United States Department of Agriculture is the governing body that regulates which foods can be labeled as “organic.” And, according to the USDA, all organic products must obtain organic certification. To ease the process of certifying organic foods, the USDA National Organic Program, the federal regulatory body for U.S. organic products, has close to 100 accredited certifying agents in the U.S. and around the world.

The National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) provides recommendations on organic regulations; however, these do not become official policy until approved and adopted by the USDA. According to the USDA website, the NOSB is a Federal Advisory Committee comprised of the following members of the organic community: four farmers/growers, three environmentalists/resource conservationists, three consumer/public interest advocates, two handlers/processors, one retailer, one scientist, and one USDA accredited certifying agent. Once products are approved as organic, consumers must be educated on label distinctions.

Consumers should look for the USDA organic seal which guarantees the food is at least 95 percent organic. According to UW Health, products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients may state “made with organic ingredients” on the label, but cannot use the USDA seal. Consumers should be aware of these labeling differences to ensure they are purchasing and consuming the foods they assume they are eating.

If consumers really want to ensure that the foods they purchase are truly organic, buying locally from a farmer is the best option. Farmers markets or CSAs (community-supported agriculture arrangements) are excellent ways to verify the source of your food supply. Most importantly, being a conscious, investigative, and well-informed consumer will allow you to make the best and most healthy decisions for you and your family.

Organic crops. The USDA organic seal verifies that irradiation, sewage sludge, synthetic fertilizers, prohibited pesticides, and genetically modified organisms were not used.

Organic livestock. The USDA organic seal verifies that producers met animal health and welfare standards, did not use antibiotics or growth hormones, used 100% organic feed, and provided animals with access to the outdoors.

Organic multi-ingredient foods. The USDA organic seal verifies that the product has 95% or more certified organic content. If the label claims that it was made with specified organic ingredients, you can be sure that those specific ingredients are certified organic.

How to Pair Food and Wine

… Part Art, Part Science, and Part Mindfulness
by Amber Erickson Gabbey

Whether it’s steak, salad, or pizza, a great wine can enhance any dish. Food and wine pairing, although intimidating to many, can be a fun way to experiment with and learn about wines. The science behind food and wine pairing rests on flavors and tastes. Just like the symbiotic relationship between dessert and coffee, there are certain pairings that just make more sense. But outside of this science, or the general guidelines of food and wine pairing, exists room for freedom, experimentation, and preference. This is the art of pairing. Donna Sachs, owner and winemaker at River Bend Vineyard and Winery tells her customers that the primary guideline to follow when pairing is to drink what you like. If you only like one kind of wine, go ahead and drink it with anything. The purpose of food and wine pairing is to enhance the meal and liking the wine is integral to this.

For those who like different varieties of wine, Sachs has three recommendations to consider when pairing food and wine.

Food and wine should complement each other. The food should never overpower the wine and the wine should never overpower the food. The most basic guideline is light food with light wine and heavy food with heavy wine. For example, whites go best with fish or poultry and reds with beef or hearty meals. To go a little further, you could explore acidity, tannins, flavors or dryness. For example, acidic wines go well with creamy sauces and red wine with cheese because of the tannins. Sweet, non-acidic wines are better with appetizers or spicy dishes. Dessert wines are best by themselves or with bitter dark chocolate or sharp cheese.

Don’t worry about doing it right, being correct or following the rules. Drink what you like and have fun with it. If you think it works well together, it works well together. If you are going to a party and want to bring wine, one suggestion is to bring one white and one red so that you cover all the bases.

Be mindful and trust yourself. This is where the mindfulness of pairing comes in. Sachs often has her customers sample food and wine together and asks them to become curious about what they are tasting and experiencing. The simple act of slowly eating, mindfully drinking and paying attention to those sensations can open up new experiences. Culturally, we don’t take the time to savor our food or drink. The beauty of food and wine pairing comes when you mindfully eat, mindfully drink and observe how the two work together. Another mindfulness exercise includes noticing what subtle flavors are in the wine. The wine could taste smoky, fruity, or jammy with notes of citrus, coffee, berry or other flavors. Beginning to notice these will help hone in on the essence of the wine and knowing better how to pair it with food.

The more you drink and pay attention, the easier food and wine pairing will become. Have fun with it, don’t be intimidated and at the end of the day, drink what you like.

Infinity Beverages Suggests…

By Matthew Rick, Infinity Beverages, Banbury Place, Eau Claire

• Round Corner Red Table Wine: Great with spicy red meats/sauces and goat cheese.
• Round Corner Sweet Apricot: Delicious when paired with a creamy dessert or as dessert itself, but also enjoyable with oriental foods or for cooking with chicken and/or pork.
• Round Corner Mulberry: Fantastic when paired with dried fruits or soft cheeses such as blue cheese and feta.
• Round Corner Sweet White: Pairs with light pastas and especially chicken or lightly breaded pork and fish.
• Round Corner Sweet Red: Refreshing when paired with fresh fruits, salads, and is a great compliment to most chocolates.