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Will Allen, founder and executive director of Growing Power in Milwaukee and one of the world's foremost experts on sustainability, spoke at Lakeland College on October 11 as part of Lakeland College's Sesquicentennial Great Thinkers Series.
Allen emphasized the importance of creating sustainable food systems in both rural and urban areas. Allen said the key to good health is eating nutritious food, and there's not enough of that happening. Compounding the problem is food being shipped from various parts of the world, and in the days it takes to arrive, it loses its nutritional value. The solution is to restore our land in our communities and create healthy sustainable food systems that will support our communities, Allen said.
"The key is to connect urban and rural communities together to create these food systems," he said. "We all need to work together in effort to improve."
Over the past 20 years, Allen and his team have been traveling the globe setting up "hoop houses" that produce nutritious food. Their efforts open up the possibility of healthy food and it creates inner city jobs.
Allen has also taken the responsibility of teaching and educating the population how to maintain these community hoop houses. Every January through June, people from all around the world attend informational and hands-on training sessions were they learn the techniques and skills involved with creating and maintaining a green house.
One technique is Aquatonics, a relationship between plants and fish. Allen and his team have set up a multi-level system where the plants are elevated above a bed of water with fish. The fish release nitrogen and other important resources into the plants working in a complementary relationship. By elevating the plant and vegetation, it allows space to be used more efficiently.
The hoop houses are home to peppers, cabbage, mushrooms and sprouts as well as Tilapia, Yellow Perch, Lake Perch and Coy. Currently, the headquarters and main hoop house in Milwaukee feed 10,000 people and use renewable energy, including a rainwater system to help water the plants and sustain the fish.
In addition to his address in the Bradley Theatre, Allen spoke to members of the Sheboygan-area food industry during a luncheon, and he visited a class on environment and consumption.
Growing Power currently has growing operations all across the United States. The company has made its presence felt outside the states as well, establishing farms in Kenya, Ukraine, central London and the Netherlands.
Founded in 1993, Growing Power is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power is the last working farm inside the Milwaukee city limits, with six historic greenhouses, year-round hoop-houses and farm animal pens supporting several agricultural functions - all organized within three acres. Growing Power is the leader in integrated, diversified urban sustainable agriculture and a center of innovation, learning, and inspiration.
In 2010, Allen was also named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People and he worked with Michelle Obama at the White House to help her launch a program to fight childhood obesity, "Let's Move!" In 2005, Allen was honored with the Ford Foundation's "Leadership for a Changing World Award." He received the 2008 MacArthur Genius Fellowship award honoring his efforts towards promoting sustainable farming methods in low income neighborhoods.