A few weeks ago, we enjoyed the privilege of listening to Will Allen, CEO of Growing Power, at the Nanovic Institute’s “The Future of Food” Symposium. On our way back from lunch, David and I got the chance to speak privately with Will, so we decided to buy his book and have him sign it. I expected to learn about urban farming and community outreach, but little did I know how riveting I’d find “The Good Food Revolution“!
I’ve lost track of how many diverse people I’ve suggested to read this book — just in the past week! Not only does Will share the expected tips about composting and working with urban youth, but “The Good Food Revolution” offers an in-depth history of: sharecropping, the Great Migration, African American culture, family farms, agriculture, family life, country and urban living, and professional basketball. Will tells his family’s story and left me wanting to know his mother, father and grandmother, as well as the white woman who rented them his childhood home. Although he addresses racism head-on, this book –and Growing Power — act as bridges between cultures, and Will himself embodies that inclusiveness. Rather than preaching color blindness, “The Good Food Revolution” masterfully highlights each person’s humanity. Race becomes a factor, but we see, through Will, each person as an individual who has a unique story and special gifts to share.
With the help of author Charles Wilson, Will interweaves folk wisdom and nostalgia with relationships and personal stories that had me literally laughing out loud and sobbing at various points in the narrative. On several occasions, I needed to put down the book so I could dry my tears and let the information settle in my heart. He gives us intimate glimpses into so many people’s lives –often shared in their own words — and lets their stories bring history and facts to life. At no point does this book feel didactic, although I never stopped learning from first page to last. The delicate way he reveals the growth of certain “characters” like Karen Parker and her two children, DeShell and DeShawn, often reads more like a page-turning novel than a treatise on “Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities.”
Towards the end of the book, Will shares insights into running non-profit and for-profit businesses, including examples of people who trained at Growing Power. His inclusiveness extends beyond race and his “Rainbow Coalition” of farmers, right into the corporate world and government. He finds ways to work with places like the corporation that provides all Milwaukee school lunches, Walmart, Kohl’s Department Stores, many local businesses who donate waste for compost, as well as federal and local government initiatives. Like many people, I have a knee-jerk reaction to corporations and government. Although I know we need to engage those in power if we wish to change them, part of me still recoils at direct collaboration. Will uses the same skills that allow him to recognize the humanity in each individual in order to recognize and honor corporate or government desire to make positive contributions. I was shocked to learn “that Walmart was launching a new initiative intended to increase the amount of local food it bought by 2015 to 9 percent. This is not insignificant, especially for a company with Walmart’s buying power. The average American eats less than 1 percent of his or her food from local sources.”
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. “The Good Food Revolution” offers a positive vision for an abundant future of off-grid living and local food, of inner city regeneration and the return of self-respect and sustainability to the nearly decimated profession and lifestyle of small farmers. I love listening to Will Allen speak and expected an inspirational book, but if Will had been a professional baseball player instead of a basketball star, I’d say he knocked this one out of the park. I know I’ll be savoring and digesting the lessons of “The Good Food Revolution” for a long time.