Joining the Revolution
by Jack Beuttell -- November 27th, 2012
re. basketball legends, urban farming, and the Good Food Revolution
MacArthur Genius Will Allen recently came through town for the grand opening of Interfaith Food Shuttle’s (IFS) new urban logistics post in downtown Raleigh, for which Growing Power, Will’s non-profit organization, will serve as a technical resource.
The former NBA star was also here in February, presumably meeting with IFS to discuss its role as one of Growing Power’s Regional Outreach Training Center (ROTCs), and Duke was lucky enough to book Will for a presentation on his life’s work, which he describes as “The Good Food Revolution.” Over the course of more than 900 PowerPoint slides (no, that is not a typo), Will transported us to his home-base operation in Milwaukee, ground zero for the revolution. With only two acres to work with, he’s squeezed in six greenhouses and 12 hoop houses for everything from mixed greens to tilapia to laying hens, an apiary, outdoor livestock pens, an anaerobic digester and a retail store.
What seemed to excite Will the most was the compost soil, the secret formula that makes the whole thing run. Over and again he would say, “It’s all about the soil, it’s all about the soil.” Which is why he harvests food waste from local restaurants and rotates it through a sophisticated 30-pallet system to maintain high internal temperatures, which kills weed seeds. The soil is piled high against the walls of the greenhouses to heat them in the winter, and it’s mixed with water to make “compost tea,” which is sprayed over the plants as fertilizer.
Listening to Will, you can’t help but be moved by his passion and his intimate knowledge of how this stuff fits together so well. It’s obvious how different this approach is from our industrial food system, which favors synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and antibiotics, none of which is used by Growing Power because none of it is needed…by design. And you begin to see this really may be the start to a food revolution.
Fast forward to this month, and my business partner and I are sitting at a dinner table in IFS’ new warehouse, which the following day will be the site of Growing Power’s first ROTC workshop in Raleigh. The dinner is a small fundraiser sponsored by Will, the main attraction, and once again he lines up behind the mic. He’s a huge man whose appearance betrays his age, but the weakness in his knees points to the years he spent playing basketball and, later, doubled over rows of cabbage and radishes.
He talks about soil, about depressed urban communities, about the brokenness of our food system. The message resonates loud and clear. And then comes the altar call. Who will change the way he buys and eats? Who will bring hope to the food deserts in urban America? Who will find a way to scale alternatives to industrial food? Who will join the Good Food Revolution?
Sign me up, man.