The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities

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9781592407606: The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities

A pioneering urban farmer and MacArthur Genius Award-Winner points the way to building a new food system that can feed- and heal- communities.

The son of a sharecropper, Will Allen had no intention of ever becoming a farmer himself. But after years in professional basketball and as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter & Gamble, he cashed in his retirement fund for a two-acre plot just outside Milwaukee's largest public housing project. The area was a food desert with only convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to serve the needs of locals.

Despite financial challenges and daunting odds, Allen built the country's preeminent urban farm-a food and educational center that now produces enough produce and fish year-round to feed thousands. Employing young people from the neighboring housing project and community, Growing Power shows how local food systems can help troubled youths, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health. Today, Allen's organization helps develop community food systems across the country.

An eco-classic in the making, The Good Food Revolution is the story of Will's personal journey, the lives he has touched, and a grassroots movement that is changing the way our nation eats.

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About the Author:

After retiring from professional basketball and executive positions at Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter & Gamble, Will Allen became the CEO of Growing Power. He lives in Milwaukee. Charles Wilson is a journalist and the coauthor with Eric Schlosser of the #1 New York Times bestselling children’s book Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Praise for The Good Food Revolution

Featured on CBS Evening News, CNN, Fox News, The Colbert Report, Tavis Smiley, and NPR’s To the Best of Our Knowledgeand The Splendid Table

Goodreads Choice finalist for best food book of the year

2013 NAACP Image Awards nominee for autobiography / biography

“[Allen’s] book could have been another look at the problems of the industrial food system, the lack of healthful food in many poor communities, and ideas to reverse course. And it is that, but it’s also told through the painful but important lens of the African-American experience.

“Allen gives readers the personal, moving account of a man whose family became part of the last century’s great migration of African-Americans out of the South. Of a man who traded a successful—and not too difficult—life in the corporate world for the economic uncertainties and the nonstop labor of a small farmer.”

Los Angeles Times

“Will Allen, the CEO of Growing Power, is teaching us how to feed a nation—naturally.... His story is not only compelling but a treatise on how our country supplies food and how the absence of a grocery store in your ’hood is no excuse for not finding a way to feed your family good food.”

Ebony

“[A] well-written, fascinating, and truly inspiring memoir about hope and resilience through agriculture.”

Serious Eats

“Will Allen’s life proves that success often grows from failure.”

The Bay State Banner

“Mr. Allen has written both a touching autobiography and a compelling history of this country’s dynamic food landscape.”

Handpicked Nation

“What [Will] Allen does with a small plot of land and a lot of determination is nothing short of inspiring....A moving story of one man’s success in producing healthy food for those who need it the most.”

Kirkus Reviews

“From the plots of his Milwaukee urban farm to low-income communities across America, Will Allen has shown us a new type of heroism. Through The Good Food Revolution, Allen recounts his effort to reclaim his family’s heritage and, in doing so, confronts lingering disparities in racial and economic justice. As the champion of a new and promising movement, Allen is skillfully leading Americans to face one of our greatest domestic issues—our health.”

—President William Jefferson Clinton

“Far more than a book about food, The Good Food Revolution captivates your heart and mind with the sheer passion of compelling and righteous innovation. Wow!”

—Joel Salatin, author and farmer at Polyface, Inc.

“Will Allen is a hero and an inspiration to urban farmers everywhere. Now, with The Good Food Revolution, we learn how Allen rediscovered the power of agriculture and, in doing so, transformed a city, its community, and eventually the world—with the help of millions of red wiggler worms. Told with grace and utter honesty, I found myself cheering for Allen and his organization, Growing Power.”

—Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City and The Essential Urban Farmer

“Will Allen’s remarkable story, told with eloquence and compassion, conveys the universal value of social justice and real food.”

—Alice Waters

After retiring from professional basketball and executive positions at KFC and Procter&Gamble, Will Allen became CEO of Growing Power. He lives in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Charles Wilson is a journalist as well as the coauthor with Eric Schlosser of the #1 New York Times bestselling children’s book Chew On This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food.

THE

GOOD FOOD
REVOLUTION

Growing Healthy Food,
People, and Communities

WILL ALLEN

with Charles Wilson

To Cyndy, Erika, Jason, and Adrianna, who braved this journey with me, and to my parents, Willie Mae and O.W., whose wisdom helped guide the way.

In dirt is life.

GEORGE WASHINGTON CARVER

FOREWORD BY ERIC SCHLOSSER

ESCAPE

RETURN

PROMISES

TRIAL BY FIRE

PART 1 * ROOTS

BLACK FLIGHT

BEGINNING

A SNORTING TERROR OF
RIPPLING MUSCLE

GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER

BACK TO EARTH

PART 2 * SWEAT EQUITY

BLACK GOLD

A LITTLE HOPE, A LOT OF WILL

HOMECOMINGS

PART 3 * THE REVOLUTION

OVERNIGHT SUCCESS

NEW FRONTIERS

THE DREAM

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

CREDITS

NOTES

BOOK CLUB / STUDY GUIDE

FOREWORD

By Eric Schlosser

Any discussion of race in American society seems, increasingly, to be taboo. The election of an African American president has led many to argue that the color of a person’s skin has become irrelevant, discrimination is a thing of the past, and we now live amid a post-racial culture. In my view, that’s wishful thinking. A long list of contrary arguments can be made—but the most useful, in this foreword, would be to mention how this country has, since its inception, produced its food. The history of agriculture in the United States is largely a history of racial exploitation. From the slavery that formed the rural economy of the South to the mistreatment of migrant farm workers that continues to this day, our food has too often been made possible by someone else’s suffering. And that someone else tends not to be white.

Will Allen knows this history all too well. His family lived it. His parents escaped sharecropping, the form of servitude that replaced the plantation system after the Civil War, and like millions of other African Americans, they fled north. Their Great Migration was often an attempt not only to seek a better life in the city, but also to leave behind the rural customs and trappings and mindset associated with centuries of hardship and pain. The great tragedy for many African Americans, as Allen explains in this book, is that in losing touch with the land and with traditions handed down for generations, they also lost an important set of skills: how to grow and prepare healthy food. By heading north they frequently traded one set of problems for another.

It’s no coincidence that the epidemic of diet-related illnesses now sweeping the country—obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes—are harming blacks the most. They are more likely to be poor, to live in communities without supermarkets, farmers markets, or produce stores. But their neighborhoods are crammed with fast food restaurants, liquor stores, and convenience stores selling junk food. These are toxic environments when it comes to finding healthy food. Industry apologists like to argue that our decisions about what to eat are the result of “personal responsibility” and “freedom of choice.” A recent study in Southern California contradicts that sort of argument. It found that a person’s life expectancy can be predicted on the basis of his or her zip code. The wealthy in Beverly Hills are likely to live ten years longer than the poor in South Central Los Angeles. It’s hard to place the blame solely on your personal choices, when life expectancy can be determined in large part by something that none of us can control: the neighborhood in which we were born.

Today the two leading causes of preventable death in the United States are smoking and eating too much unhealthy food. When both of those habits became unpopular among the white, well-educated, upper-middle class, the companies that sell cigarettes and junk food focused their marketing efforts on African Americans, people of color, and the urban poor. Long after smoking was linked to cancer and heart disease, the tobacco companies aggressively sought new customers in minority communities. An internal marketing memo by an executive at Brown&Williamson, the company that once sold Kool cigarettes, explained the industry’s thinking. “Clearly the sole reason for B&W’s interest in the black and Hispanic communities is the actual and potential sales of B&W products,” he wrote. “This relatively small and tightly knit minority community can work to B&W’s marketing advantage, if exploited properly.” Thanks to that sort of thinking, and the cigarette advertising that has flooded African American communities, the lung cancer rates among blacks are much higher than among whites. As the fast food chains pursue a similar strategy, disproportionately marketing their products to African Americans and fueling the obesity rate in low-income communities, the health disparity between blacks and whites continues to grow.

At Growing Power, the organization led by Will Allen, you will find a completely different sort of mentality. Instead of trying to earn profits by harming the poor, it hopes to create an alternative to the nation’s centralized industrial food system. It’s working to teach people how to grow food, cook food, and embrace a way of living that’s sustainable. Allen has transformed a dilapidated set of greenhouses in downtown Milwaukee into the headquarters of an urban farming network that now operates in seven states. He has developed innovative methods of growing fruits and vegetables, of producing fish through aquaculture, and of using earthworms to transform waste products into fertilizer—all in the heart of a major city. To say that Allen’s thinking is unconventional would be an understatement. But that’s what has made him a pioneer of urban agriculture and a leader in today’s food movement. He understood, long before most, that America’s food system is profoundly broken—and that a new one, locally based and committed to social justice, must replace it.

The new farming techniques being perfected at Growing Power are not yet reliably profitable. This fact does not diminish their importance and must be viewed in a larger perspective. America’s current agricultural system was hardly created by free market forces. Between 1995 and 2011, American farmers received about $277 billion in federal subsidies. And the wealthiest 10 percent of farmers received 75 percent of those subsidies. Almost two-thirds of American farmers didn’t receive any subsidies at all. In addition to getting massive support from taxpayers, the current system is imposing enormous costs on society—costs that aren’t included on the balance sheets of the major fast food and agribusiness companies. Last year the revenues of the fast food industry were about $168 billion, an impressive sum. But estimates of the cost of foodborne illnesses in the United States and of the nation’s obesity epidemic, as calculated by researchers at Georgetown and Cornell universities, are even higher. Those two costs alone add up to about $320 billion. By any rational measure, this industrial food system isn’t profitable or self-sufficient. Although Growing Power receives foundation grants, it’s creating a system that will be sustainable. And the good that Growing Power’s doing in the communities it serves—the heart attacks and strokes and hospital visits it helps people to avoid, the sense of empowerment it gives, the families it brings together—represent a form of social profit that’s impossible to quantify.

This book tells Will Allen’s story and lays out his farming philosophy. Instead of running from the past or trying to deny it, Allen has confronted the dark legacy of slavery and sharecropping. He has tried to reconcile the rural and urban experiences of African Americans, imagining a future that can combine the best elements of the two. He has spent years working among the poor, preaching a message of compassion and self-reliance. I admire what Will Allen has achieved. And I hope others, many others, will soon follow in his path.

Willie Mae Kenner

ESCAPE

She held a one-way ticket.

In December of 1934, my mother, Willie Mae Kenner, stood in the waiting room for colored people at the train station in Batesburg, South Carolina. She was twenty-five years old. Her two young boys, my older brothers, were at her side. She was heading to Union Station in Washington, D.C. She was trying to escape our family’s long history in agriculture.

I imagine her on this day. Willie Mae was known to be beautiful and headstrong. Many local men had called her “fine”—she had strong legs, smooth skin, a round and lovely face, and thoughtful eyes. She also had dreams that were too big for her circumstances. She and her husband, and seven of her nine siblings, were sharecroppers: tenant farmers who gave up half of the crop they planted and harvested each season in exchange for the right to pick it. It was the only life that she had known.

My mother held different hopes in her heart, both for herself and her children. She had fought to obtain a teaching degree from Schofield Normal and Industrial School, a two-year college initially set up after the Civil War by Quakers, to educate free slaves. She wanted to be a teacher. Her family noticed that when she was required to pick cotton or asparagus, she did the work without complaint. Yet she wore a long, flowing dress on top of her work shirt and pants while in the fields. It was as if she wanted to find a way to give grace and dignity to work that often provided neither.

From the train station in Batesburg, Willie Mae was trying to escape asparagus and cotton. At the time, the South was still in the thrall of “Jim Crow”: the rigid set of laws set up after the Civil War to separate whites and blacks in almost every part of public life. The 1896 Supreme Court decision in Plessy v. Ferguson—allowing “separate but equal” facilities for black people—meant that my mother could not share the same train car with white passengers. She and her children could not even wait in the same area for the train to come. Her train car sat directly behind the coal car, where men shoveled the rocks into the roaring engine. The smoke of the engine blew through the car’s windows and seeped into her clothes. She and her two boys would need to use a bathroom marked not “Men” or “Women” but “C,” for “Colored.”

Her journey was to take her to the nation’s capital, where Willie Mae planned to reunite with her husband, James Kenner. His friends called him “Major,” for reasons I never understood. He had left South Carolina after falling into debt. During the Great Depression, the price for cotton had dropped to only 5 cents a pound—down from 35 cents only a decade earlier. Major had found himself owing more to his landowner at the end of the planting season than when he began it. Sharecropping had begun to feel like slavery under another name.

“There’s no money here,” he told my mother shortly before leaving.

Major found a small place to live in Ken Gar, an all-black neighborhood on the edge of Kensington, Maryland, ten miles from the White House. He sent word to my mother to come. Major was now building houses instead of planting crops. Willie Mae had never seen the place she was going to call home.

My mother left the South before I was born. I know from relatives that she decided against boarding her departing train at the nearest station, in Ridge Spring, likely out of concern that loca...

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Book Description Softcover. Book Condition: New. A pioneering urban farmer and MacArthur Genius Award-Winner points the way to building a new food system that can feed- and heal- communities.The son of a sharecropper, Will Allen had no intention of ever becoming a farmer himself. But after years in professional basketball and as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter & Gamble, he cashed in his retirement fund for a two-acre plot just outside Milwaukee's largest public housing project. The area was a food desert with only convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to serve the needs of locals.Despite financial challenges and daunting odds, Allen built the country's preeminent urban farm-a food and educational center that now produces enough produce and fish year-round to feed thousands. Employing young people from the neighboring housing project and community, Growing Power shows how local food systems can help troubled youths, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health. Today, Allen's organization helps develop community food systems across the country. An eco-classic in the making, The Good Food Revolution is the story of Will's personal journey, the lives he has touched, and a grassroots movement that is changing the way our nation eats. Bookseller Inventory # 5520584

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Book Description GOTHAM BOOKS, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A pioneering urban farmer and MacArthur Genius Award-Winner points the way to building a new food system that can feed- and heal- communities. The son of a sharecropper, Will Allen had no intention of ever becoming a farmer himself. But after years in professional basketball and as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter Gamble, he cashed in his retirement fund for a two-acre plot just outside Milwaukee s largest public housing project. The area was a food desert with only convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to serve the needs of locals. Despite financial challenges and daunting odds, Allen built the country s preeminent urban farm-a food and educational center that now produces enough produce and fish year-round to feed thousands. Employing young people from the neighboring housing project and community, Growing Power shows how local food systems can help troubled youths, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health. Today, Allen s organization helps develop community food systems across the country. An eco-classic in the making, The Good Food Revolution is the story of Will s personal journey, the lives he has touched, and a grassroots movement that is changing the way our nation eats. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9781592407606

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Book Description GOTHAM BOOKS, United States, 2013. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book. A pioneering urban farmer and MacArthur Genius Award-Winner points the way to building a new food system that can feed- and heal- communities. The son of a sharecropper, Will Allen had no intention of ever becoming a farmer himself. But after years in professional basketball and as an executive for Kentucky Fried Chicken and Procter Gamble, he cashed in his retirement fund for a two-acre plot just outside Milwaukee s largest public housing project. The area was a food desert with only convenience stores and fast-food restaurants to serve the needs of locals. Despite financial challenges and daunting odds, Allen built the country s preeminent urban farm-a food and educational center that now produces enough produce and fish year-round to feed thousands. Employing young people from the neighboring housing project and community, Growing Power shows how local food systems can help troubled youths, dismantle racism, create jobs, bring urban and rural communities closer together, and improve public health. Today, Allen s organization helps develop community food systems across the country. An eco-classic in the making, The Good Food Revolution is the story of Will s personal journey, the lives he has touched, and a grassroots movement that is changing the way our nation eats. Bookseller Inventory # AAS9781592407606

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