Just a year ago, an article in Medium touted Will Allen as “the Godfather of Urban Farming, Who’s Breeding the Next Generation of People to Feed the World.” Allen, who started urban farming in Milwaukee in 1993, then moved on to Chicago, ended up with his Growing Power organization involved in urban farming projects around the world. Along the way, Allen won a MacArthur “genius” grant in 2008 and was named one of Time Magazine’s 2010 Time 100.
This article was first published on The Uptake, December 30, 2017 with support from the New Economy Coalition. This post is part of a News Day series on Re-Visioning Farming.
Allen’s vision, and his non-profit corporations, focused on reimagining and rebuilding a food system in cities. Among its ambitious projects:
- aquaponic systems growing fish, watercress, and wheatgrass;
- rebuilding soil through composting and vermiculture, including collection of supermarket wastes and use of red worm composting to turn them into soil;
- increasing productivity with intensive cultivation of food plants on small plots of land;
- sparking a passion for farming in urban youth and teaching them job skills to land jobs in the sustainable farming and food system;
- growing mass quantities of high quality food and delivering it to people living in inner cities;
- modeling urban farming as a real and sustainable option for people around the world.
Then, in November 2017, Growing Power crashed. After years of running deficits and with more than half a million dollars in legal judgments against the organization, Allen resigned and the organization closed its doors. Continue reading
Working cooperatively, HAFA members can purchase farm implements that would be too expensive for individuals.
Hmong farmers make Minnesota a national leader in the local foods movement. Visit any Twin Cities farmers’ market, and their contributions are evident. Yet, too often, they struggle both for access to land and for a return on their investment and work.
For Pakou Hang’s family, farming is “part of our life, part of our blood in some ways.” From as early as she can remember, she grew up helping to grow food and to sell it in farmers’ markets.
Her life path led through farm fields and farmers’ markets to Yale and the University of Minnesota and years of community organizing and social and economic research. After years of experience in community organizing and financial research, she brought a critical analysis to the place of Hmong farmers in the food system and especially in farmers’ markets. Continue reading
I grew up on a family farm of the kind that now exists mostly in myth and memory. In the early 1950s, we had dairy cows, placid Holstein giants who filed quietly into the barn each morning and night and lined up ready for milking at one end and eating at the other. Then came the Clean Milkhouse Act and the end of dairy on our farm. Sanitation is a good thing, no doubt about it, but my father couldn’t borrow the money needed to upgrade the milking facilities, so he switched over to beef.
Like the dairy cattle, the beef grazed in the pasture all summer long, drinking from the river that ran through it. I fixed fences and counted calves and checked the wooden fence posts in the lane for bluebird nests. Continue reading
If we really love Minnesota’s sky-blue lakes, if we really care about swimming and canoeing and fishing, we need to do a lot more to protect those waters. And we need to act quickly. Toxic algae blooms, fertilizer run-off, garbage, and mining sediment and run-off threaten Minnesota lakes and rivers and wetlands. Threaten? That’s actually an understatement. “Threaten” sounds like the damage is in the future. It’s not. Minnesota waterways have already been seriously damaged. Continue reading
In the 1980s, Lou Anne Kling advocated for farmers against abuses by the federal Farmers Home Administration (FmHA). In 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Kling as the agency’s national administrator of farm loan programs. Now, at 77 years, Kling has retired from her job as farm transitions coach for the Land Stewardship Project, and remains active in her community, as health allows, keeping a sharp eye on government shenanigans that affect farmers.
What’s wrong with GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food production? While many GMO critics say they pose health hazards, I find that argument unconvincing. Instead, I am concerned about:
- the tie between GMO crops and overuse of pesticides and fertilizer, each of which has serious environmental consequences;
- the contribution of seed companies and GMOs to the increasing industrialization of agriculture, which I believe harms the land, farmers and consumers;
- GMO genetic drift, which contributes to contamination of crops of neighboring farmers and, even more seriously, may contribute to the development of superweeds.
I support GMO labeling for the same reason that I support other labeling, such as country of origin labeling for meat and vegetables or rBGH labeling for dairy products. I think more information is a positive good, and that consumers should be allowed to make their own choices. For example, while I see no human health hazards in drinking milk produced by cows treated with rBGH, I see very high health hazards to the cows — and a detriment to dairy farming in general. For those reasons, I choose not to buy dairy products unless they are rBGH-free, and I support labeling because it gives me an option to choose. Continue reading
In October 2014 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved the registration of Enlist Duo, a new herbicide to fight superweeds resistant to other weedkillers. The chemical combines glyphosate, originally developed and marketed by Monsanto as Roundup, with the older, more toxic 2,4-D, one of the ingredients in Agent Orange. The approval applies to six states, and the EPA is accepting public comment until Dec. 15 to register the pesticide in 10 additional states. The registration, which came a month after the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved new corn and soybean seeds genetically engineered to resist both herbicides, is subject to a six-year limit and some monitoring requirements. Continue reading
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar joined Republicans on the Senate Agriculture Committee last week to vote for the DARK Act — the Deny Americans the Right to Know Act. That’s the bill that would forbid state and local governments from requiring labeling foods containing GMOs. The bill, which still has to pass the full Senate, was described in a March 2 Star Tribune news article:
“The vote gave the food industry, including Minnesota-based companies such as Cargill, General Mills and Land O’Lakes, everything it wanted to derail state GMO labeling laws, especially a law set to take effect in Vermont in July.”
The bill adds insult to injury, by requiring “a taxpayer-funded public education campaign that explains scientific evidence of the benefits of ‘agricultural biotechnology.’” Continue reading
Lettuce growing at St. John’s University, January 16, 2016
Local lettuce all winter? At St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, passive solar greenhouses grow lettuce for college food service, with farming and management by enthusiastic student volunteers. With a few dozen other folks, I visited both greenhouses on a subzero January Saturday, on the first of the Deep Winter Greenhouse Tours sponsored by the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota. Continue reading
Yao Yang explains use of trellis
As I drive south on Highway 52 on a sunny Sunday afternoon, city and suburban landscapes give way to long vistas of corn and soybeans. Half an hour from home, I see rows of kale, lettuce, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, flowers and other vegetables marching across neatly tended fields. That’s my destination: the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) open house, celebrating two years on their Dakota County farm. Continue reading