By Maureen Post Special to Published May 02, 2009 at 1:50 PM

CHICAGO, ILL.--- Over the last year, Will Allen's Growing Power farm received the recognition it'd been waiting for.

A recipient of the 2008 MacArthur Foundation award, Allen established himself as one of the leading experts in urban farming and Milwaukee as one of the prototypes for inner city agriculture. Deserving every aspect of acknowledgment, Growing Power, located on the north side of Milwaukee, was granted $500,000 for expansion and additional programming.
Perhaps, Allen's lesser known Chicago projects will receive a boost as well.

In addition to Allen's epitomized two acre Milwaukee urban farm, he expanded projects to include three separate operations in Chicago, Ill. Each project, emphasizing a different aspect of community gardening, sustainability and neighborhood redevelopment, exemplifies the methods used in the original Milwaukee farm.

In Milwaukee, Allen's farm is based on sustainable principles of anaerobic digestion for food waste, small and large scale composting, urban agriculture, perma-culture, food distribution, youth development and community engagement.

Growing Power's initial intent was to provide jobs for local teens in the farm's adjacent store. Ten years later, Allen's work is recognized as a revolutionary and the farm continues to set precedent as a testing ground or think tank for ecological innovation.

Recognizing a universal need for improving low-income access to green space and fresh produce, Allen established partnerships in Chicago only three years following his Milwaukee open. His initial project, The Chicago Avenue Community Garden at Cabrini Green, dove into a tumultuous Chicago neighborhood at the climax of community upheaval and transition.

In 2002, when Allen initiated the Chicago Avenue project, the three Cabrini Green Housing towers were home to nearly 15,000 people. The area, riddled with gang violence, drug use and incalculable poverty, has since been redeveloped as project residents were displaced south of the city and policy constructed more mixed-income housing.

To say Allen dove into the eye of the storm would be the first understatement; and to conclude that his surviving and thriving urban gardens are merely a simple success would be the second.

In the Cabrini Green neighborhood, with the commitment of neighboring Fourth Presbyterian Church, Allen transformed dilapidated basketball courts into several individually run community gardens. To ensure productivity in presumably depleted soil, Allen created a system of above ground garden beds; employing a living biological worm system utilizing compost through aerobic and anaerobic digestion.

The Chicago Avenue project is an oasis of green surrounded by a combination of low-level, low-income housing. Brand new condo developments sit side by side with government housing. The remains of Cabrini Green loom to the north; predominantly empty yet still intact. Nonetheless, the gardens are a palpable testament to the heart and devotion of families in the community.

Allen's second project is centrally located in Grant Park along Lake Michigan. "Art on the Farm" is an urban agriculture "potager" placed on some of the city's most valuable lakefront property. Developed as a means of bringing fresh produce to the central urban landscape, this 20,000 sq. ft. garden harvests 150 varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.

"Art on the Farm" not only provides interns with the knowledge and skill needed to construct farms elsewhere but the farm is a research platform shaping urban agriculture's economic and commercial viability.

Allen's most recent Chicago contribution is on the south side of the city. Jackson Park Urban Farm and Community Allotment Garden is a half-acre plot of community gardens. Upholding standards exceeding organic regulations, the Jackson Park project grows produce in raised beds in conjunction with classes and trainings on community education.

In Chicago, Allen's work is small scale, personal and community based.

Working within individual neighborhoods to create partnerships with local groups, churches and residents, Allen successfully transferred the innovative methods of Growing Power Milwaukee into accessible techniques and inspiring transformations.

Maureen Post Special to staff writer Maureen Post grew up in Wauwatosa. A lover of international and urban culture, Maureen received a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

After living on the east side of Madison for several years, Maureen returned to Milwaukee in 2006.

After a brief stint of travel, Maureen joined as the city’s oldest intern and has been hooked ever since. Combining her three key infatuations, Milwaukee’s great music, incredible food and inspiring art (and yes, in that order), Maureen’s job just about fits her perfectly.

Residing in Bay View, Maureen vehemently believes the city can become fresh and new with a simple move across town.