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Farming and the Local Food Scene: Growing Power comes to North Carolina

This past weekend was the first annual “Plant the Pavement” workshop held at the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s (IFFS) new site in Raleigh, North Carolina. Along with members of Growing Power, a national non-profit dedicated to alleviating hunger through urban agriculture, IFFS staff and around 100 conference attendees participated in building IFFS’s farm infrastructure for the years to come. IFFS has been working with Growing Power for the past few years to become a Regional Outreach Training Center (ROTC), an extension of Growing Power’s headquarters in Milwaukee. Now, IFFS has a greenhouse, aquaponic set-up, and more raised beds with which to grow and teach people in the Triangle.

For those of you who haven’t heard of Will Allen, the enormous personality behind Growing Power, he’s the face of the urban agriculture movement of our nation. He’s worked with Michelle Obama in her campaign against obesity, received a Genius Award from the MacArthur Foundation, and is widely known amongst the urban farmers of the United States. Allen was raised in Rockville, Maryland on a family farm, and then went on to play basketball at the University of Miami (the entire weekend he wore a UM cap). He never imagined coming back to farming, but noticed that the unhealthiest people of all were located in the poorest urban neighborhoods, where unemployment and violence were also rampant.

Allen co-founded Growing Power in 1993 to create economic and educational opportunities for youth in the Milwaukee, provide healthy food for his community, and ultimately serve as a model for the rest of the nation. Allen stresses his non-profit model as the way to go when starting a similar organization as non-profits receive tax exemptions and access to a wider variety of grants than for-profit organizations. However, many fledgling businesses find it too cumbersome to manage the 501c3 paperwork necessary to operate as a non-profit and don’t like the idea of relying on grant funding to stay afloat. While his model has clearly been successful, I’m not sold on a “one-size-fits-all” model for all organizations focused on urban agriculture and increasing access to healthy foods.

The two-day conference featured a keynote address from Will Allen on Saturday night. The take-home message for me was to go ahead with my plans for a farm in the city, and (hopefully) the city will embrace my hard work and investment. It’s difficult for me, as someone who is not inherently a great risk-taker to feel comfortable investing my time and money into something that is currently illegal within city limits. According to Allen however, as soon as the city of Milwaukee realized that Growing Power was an asset for the city, they have been extremely supportive in terms of grants and navigating (and changing) the city’s zoning laws. I am hopeful that the same will happen in Durham.

The city of Durham, where I live, is in the process of changing its laws on farming within city limits. We’re lucky to have a receptive planning team to work with and a motivated and highly educated community that understands the benefits of urban agriculture. Hopefully the momentum that Growing Power, IFFS, and other like-minded organizations have created within the Triangle will force the restrictive laws regarding urban agriculture to change within all Triangle cities in order for people to better understand and access where their food comes from.

Laura Stephenson is an environmental science graduate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where she focused in environmental and community health. She is currently working full-time at a small, organic farm outside of Hillsborough, North Carolina called Maple Spring Gardens. Laura writes the Farming and the Local Food Scene series about her experiences with local farms and farmers around the Piedmont area of North Carolina.

Posted on: November 27, 2012, 6:00 am Category: Farming and the Local Food Scene Tagged with: , , , ,

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