Will Allen – An Urban Farmer Growing Resilience [by the tonne]

6 foot 7, ex-NBA player, 63 years old – and building a local thriving economy, education service, healthcare service, community resilience movement through growing food in the middle of Wisconsin. Will Allen is one of the movers and shakers in the urban agriculture movement [also referred to as urban farming or street farming] and for years has been focussing on one of the ‘indicator’ elements of building community resilience.

Will loves worms – he’s got millions of them. He makes compost using city waste, uses some in the gardens and sells the rest. He uses aquaponics to grow fish, then sells them too. He’s getting something like quadruple the productivity of our industrialised agricultural system. And whilst he’s doing all this he’s building local capacity in skills, in food growing, in community connectedness.

will allen

There are many articles and write-ups on Will Allen, but the one from the New York Times 2009 by Elizabeth Royte is the one that drew me in. I only intended to read the intro but found myself at the end about 5 minutes later – a great article that teaches us about the systems Will’s built but also conveys the passion and enthusiasm of a guy who wants to make a difference, and is.

“Will Allen, a farmer of Bunyonesque proportions, ascended a berm of wood chips and brewer’s mash and gently probed it with a pitchfork. “Look at this,” he said, pleased with the treasure he unearthed. A writhing mass of red worms dangled from his tines. He bent over, raked another section with his fingers and palmed a few beauties.”

A few key ways in which urban farming can build community resilience;

  • Improves food security – the community is not solely reliant on the food production system owned by corporations;
  • Makes fresh and organic food available at low prices – boosting community health and financial wellbeing;
  • Provides food locally – circumventing poorly planned neighbourhoods that force reliance on cars to get to the fresh food store;
  • Teaches self reliance – empowering the community to take care of themselves, to work as a community and build mutual support… like it always used to be but now transferred to the urban context;
  • Significantly reduces environmental impacts – avoids petro-chemical fertilisers, restores soil health, vastly reduces fresh water consumption, turns waste into resource.

This was just one of those stories that makes me want to go out and do the same thing. Every city contains vacant or unproductive land that could be producing our food and building our communities.

One other site that’s worth a visit is City Farmer News [click image] – a current and up-to-date site that shares urban farming happenings from around the world… certainly gives the sense that this is a global movement and fascinating to read how people are responding to their own contexts in the world’s major cities. Warning; if you’re even vaguely interested in this topic [if you’ve made it this far you probably are] this site will draw you in. Make some time allowance.


No matter how small a space we have available, it’s clear that we can be growing at least some of our own food. Personally my challenge is ‘finding the time’ but methinks this is more a question of re-organising my priorities rather than a real time issue. I now know what I’ll be doing this weekend.


One response to “Will Allen – An Urban Farmer Growing Resilience [by the tonne]

  1. Awesome! I used to volunteer for Will when I lived in Milwaukee. He’s so much larger than life in every single way. Glad to see him profiled on your site!

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