I admit it. I was super nervous about this interview.
It’s not often that I get to interview someone who has been awarded the MacArthur Foundation Genius Grant.
I remember the first time I ever heard of Will Allen. An old personal training client told me about all the good Will was doing in Milwaukee, providing access to real food in the inner city.
Maybe a year later, I reviewed a movie called Fresh, in which Will was featured. I can vividly call him shouting, “Let’s DO this!” to a group of volunteers on his urban farm called Growing Power.
Yup, Will is a doer. He grows food where you would least expect it, using earthworm poop to maximize soil quality, food scraps and paper products for compost, hoop houses to grow crops out of season, and aquaponics to grow over a 100,000 fish indoors.
A genius, indeed.
While I was at the Grass Valley Food and Farm Conference a few weeks ago, I not only got to introduce Will to the attendees but I got to sit down with him and pick his big brain for a bit.
Definitely one of the highlights of my life.
Click below to get to know more about Will Allen. The man is amazing.
After forty to fifty years of managing the soil, harvesting the crops, and raising the animals — very hard work, indeed — there comes a point when it’s time to shut it down.
Back in the day (actually, really not that long ago), farms were multi-generational. Sons and daughters were groomed to someday take over the family business.
Unfortunately, those times are no more.
Over half of our farmers are sixty years of age and older. According to this article, the number of farmers over the age of 65 grew by nearly 22 percent between the years 2002 and 2007 alone. Furthermore, statistics from the Agricultural Department show that for every one farmer and rancher under the age of 25, there are five who are 75 and older.
For most of these aged farmers, their sons and daughters have moved on from generations-old family traditions and farmlands in pursuit of cultivating more corporate pastures. As a result, their mothers and fathers are working well past retirement age.
As farmer Joel Salatin says, “If the young people don’t get in, then the old people can’t get out.”
Last Saturday, I had the privilege of presenting at the Black Male Empowerment Summit at Georgia Southern University (GSU). In the hours leading up to the first of my two talks, I wondered if these young men (and a few women) would even be interested in listening to me babble about holistic health and wellness for an hour. Turns out they were.
They raised their hands and asked great questions.
They shared their own experiences.
They expressed their frustrations with the limited access to healthy food.
These young people really cared.
Despite their interest in the topic, I wondered if I had really made an impact — would any of my attendees actually put the information to use?
Then this week, while I read Will Allen’s book The Good Food Revolution for the second time, I came across a passage regarding a recent study of one hundred sixth-graders who had participated in a hands-on, garden-based nutrition education program. Allen writes,
“(These students were compared) with two other groups: students who were taught nutrition lessons in a classroom and those who were given no nutrition education at all. The researchers found no significant difference a year later in the vegetable and fruit consumption of children without nutrition education and those who received nutrition classes. The students who received hands-on training in a garden, however, increased their fruit and vegetable intake by more than two servings a day.” (Allen, 160-161)
No, I don’t typically work with sixth-graders (then again, maybe I should), but I can’t help but wonder…
Does the power of the real food message reside in the information alone, or is the most powerful impact sparked by a real life physical connection with the soil and where our food comes from?
Is spending a day on a farm infinitely times more transformative than reading a book or a blog?
Will Allen seems to think so, and I tend to agree with him. The urban agriculturalist writes, “My own experience tells me that if we can expose young people to more fresh, delicious food — and create positive emotions around those experiences — that we can increase the chances that they will adopt more fresh food into their diet as they begin to make independent food choices later in life.”
But this begs another question…
In the Black community — or any other neighborhood where healthful food is scarce — where does one go to come into contact with these fresh, delicious foods, and to experience these positive emotions?
In these communities, food is seldom associated with soil but with drive-thru windows and cellophane packaging. Instead of food being the source of positive emotions (and thus healthful choices), food companies link their health-less products to the consumer’s positive emotions for Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. It’s actually quite brilliant.
What is even more brilliant is what Will Allen is doing to bring agriculture back to the inner city. Each year, Will and his Growing Power team — located in Milwaukee, WI — produce 40 tons of vegetables and raise 100,000 fish on just three acres of land, and in an urban area where soil quality is typically poor due to the lack of animal life and organic matter.
Even more amazing than the immensity of Mr. Allen’s food production is the effect his organization has had on the surrounding community, where disinvestment has led to an exodus of supermarkets and an influx of fast food joints and corner stores.
Growing Power is a place where visitors can literally reconnect with their roots. People of all races can dig their hands deep into the soil and feel where real food comes from. African-American men, women, boys, and girls can recapture the generational wisdom of growing and cooking their own food. The shameful emotions of slavery and sharecropping are replaced by a brand new enthusiasm for self-sufficiency and community.
I can’t stop wondering…
What if those students attending my presentation knew how to use earthworms to turn waste — discarded vegetables and fruits, meat scraps, coffee grounds, and paper products — into the most incomparable fertilizer?
What if they knew how to create an inexpensive system for growing fish while at the same time raising plants by using their roots to clear toxic nitrogen from the water before returning it to the fish via gravity?
What if they had spent just a few days of their youths preparing affordable fruit and vegetable baskets for impoverished families?
What if they had, just once, risen at 4am to harvest organic asparagus, collards, spinach, and carrots, and taken them to market the following day to earn income through nourishing the bodies of their neighbors?
If they had had these exposures and experienced the accompanying emotions…
Would they still consume junk food, order meals through a talking menu board, or give two sh*ts about what LeBron and Kobe have to say about anything other than basketball?
Would they need me to fly across the country to tell them what real food is?
At the conclusion of each of my sessions, I challenged the students to be the ones who change the health of future generations of African-Americans. Empowering health habits are just as easy to pass down generationally as poor ones. Be the change.
The world needs more Will Allens. He exemplifies the change more than anyone I have ever come across. His story has inspired the heck out of me. I suggest you read The Good Food Revolution. At the very least, watch the video below to learn more.
Several weeks ago, as I scrolled through my Facebook news feed, I was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon a cartoon of a young woman holding a ginormous plate of veggies – carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, radishes, and all. Beside her read these words:
Try Organic Food…or as your grandparents called it, “Food”.
Thoroughly impressed with the impact of such a simple statement and illustration, I immediately shared it with my friends. From there, it spread like wildfire. All day long, my cell phone lit up as fellow real foodists posted hundreds of comments in support of all things organic.
For that one day, the organic movement owned social media. You can only imagine the sense of delight this gave me. Yet, at some point my fervor happened upon a tinge of melancholy.
I felt shame, as if I could just as well have responded to the cartoon with an SMH comment (that’s social media-speak for Shaking My Head). No, this shame was not for anything I had done, but rather an empathetic shame for those who have created what I call our fool’s gold food supply.
Only in our modern food system must we choose between foods sprayed with poisonous chemicals and those that are not, while the powers-that-be go to great lengths to convince us that these items are one and the same.
Personally, I like my food poison-free.
While we butt heads debating over the nutritional superiority of one category of food over the other, many of us tune out the environmental impact of our egregious conventional farming practices and supermarket purchases. Pesticides in our water supply. Dead zones in our oceans. Reduced carbon sequestration in our soils. Nutrition aside, we should be eating with our environment in mind.
As I write this, I am reminded of these compelling words written by Eric Schlosser in the foreword to Maria Rodale’s Organic Manifesto,
“Pesticides are poisons. They are manufactured to kill insects, rodents, fungi, and weeds. Organophosphates—one of the most common types of pesticides—were developed in Nazi Germany to be used as chemical weapons. It was later recognized that the same sort of nerve gases formulates to attack soldiers and civilians would be used against agricultural pests.”
More people need to know this.
I long for the day when organic rules social media once again. But what I long for even more is the day when a cartoon like the one that sparked that memorable day is no longer necessary, a time when organic owns the consciousness of not only the fellow real food enthusiast but the average person, farmer, and legislator.
Being the gardening rookie that I so obviously am, I have no idea what I’m doing.
Our spinach never grew. The tomatoes plant is starving. We put the fertilizer in the wrong spot — we were supposed to mix it throughout the bed.
Plants need to be able to access their food, Sean! Duh.
To help Kirk and I save our garden, Shawn Studer of Natural Living Source returns to the show to tell us all about how worm poop (otherwise known as castings) will help us bring our garden back to life.
Shawn also gives us some watering tips and discusses the importance of using mulch, liquid molasses, and seaweed extract.
Check out the video below as we come with a solution for our BIG mistakes.
Devil in the Milk by Keith Woodford is one of the most fascinating books I have ever read. The science he presents is extremely compelling, and his delivery is top notch. Totally digging it!
Today’s video is my response to the many questions I have received through YouTube, FB, and this site.
I go into the different types of milk — which ones have A1 beta-casein and which don’t. I talk a bit about how the Holder method of pasteurization seems to increase the amount of harmful BCM7 in milk. And I get into how leaky gut syndrome just makes everything worse!
Take care of your gut! It’s a big deal.
So, click the video below for a ginormous 12-minute truth bomb. Yeah, it’s long. But I’m 100% sure you’ll dig it and want to share it with a friend or two.
The Underground Wellness Garden is soaking up these hot San Diego sun rays. And in a few weeks, we’ll be able to harvest our spinach, squash, and tomatoes. Super jazzed about growing (and eating) my own food!
I’m a little behind with bringing you the latest installments of our Grow Your Own series. So, below you will find episodes 2 through 4.
In Episode 2, Kirk Hensler of Hale Holistic and I show you how to put together you own grow box. Pretty easy peezy!
In Episode 3, Kirk shows us how to plant our starters.
And in the fourth episode, we sow our seeds.
Be on the lookout for the fifth installment later this week. Watering plants is pretty easy, BUT you want to be sure that you’re not feeding your plants toxic water. We’ll give you the scoop!
I’ll be headed back to Hale on Friday. Our seeds are sprouting. My babies are here!!!
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