Milwaukee food security

Posted on March, 01 2012

Growing Power champions food security 

Growing Power champions food security

Food security is gaining serious attention from cities today, given the projected problems from climate change, water scarcity and petroleum-based agriculture. In the US, the NGO Growing Power demonstrates the sustainability of local food security, which it terms Community Food Systems. The affordability and accessibility of nutritious fresh food, especially for people with lower incomes, are boosted through a range of symbioses that Growing Power works with.

Keywords: holistic food production, community food systems, food and nutritional security, vermiculture, aquaculture, raised beds

Recognised by the highly prestigious MacArthur Genius Grant in 2008, Milwaukee-headquartered NGO Growing Power approaches food security by integrating a range of environmental, economic, and social benefits of near-urban food production. Using only low-cost methods like raised beds, aquaculture, vermiculture, and greenhouse-heating via composting, the Milwaukee centre has been able to produce huge volumes of food and soil. The near-urban farm also functions as an urban land trust that conserves greenspace and biodiversity. Education, job training, and youth employment are also integrated.

Food distribution networks
Holistic farming and urban food distribution networks are the basic design concepts. Various kinds of recycling are used. One closed loop involves farming Tilapia fish, where fish wastes feed plants. This also simultaneously cleans and circulates water. Another loop involves the use of municipal wastes to produce compost. In 2010, the NGO converted 9 million kg of waste to compost.

Growing Power is also a centre for youth education, employment, and community building. In 2010, the headquarters and main farm in Milwaukee received 15,000 visitors and 3,500 volunteers, training some 1,000 new farmers and 1,000 young people.

Other US urban food initiatives
In the US, other NGOs that are working with holistic models for urban food security include Troy Gardens (Madison, Wisconsin) and From the Ground Up (Washington DC). Troy Gardens combines mixed-income co-housing with community gardens (more than 300 allotments) and prairie restoration. From the Ground Up combines food production for nutritional security, especially for low-income groups, with job training and community development. In a single year it produced more than 50,000 kg of fresh vegetables on a 3 ha farm.

Worldwide efforts for urban food security
In addition to the civil sector, there is a large increase in the number of city governments all over the world that support urban agriculture through policy, e.g. in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Another approach is for a city to have a food policy council that brings together civil society and government, e.g. in Toronto, Amsterdam, Detroit, and London (see also San Francisco). According to UN estimates, urban food production involves some 800 million people who produce approximately 15% of the entire world’s food supply (see also Hanoi, Havana, Lubumbashi and Shanghai).

Critics of the trend toward greater urban/peri-urban food production raise a range of questions. Should food production be a primary function of a city (instead of rural areas)? How much area in a city can effectively be used for food production? Are cities with large proportions of their food produced locally actually more (not less) vulnerable to climate change because they depend on only a single land-area that can be affected by drought, extreme weather variations, etc.?

Growing Power, 2011,

Peter Newman, Timothy Beatley, Heather Boyer, 2009, Resilient cities: responding to peak oil and climate change, Washington DC: Island Press

Peter Newman, Isabella Jennings, 2008, Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems: Principles and Practices, Washington, DC: Island Press

Mark Redwood (editor), 2008, Agriculture in Urban Planning: Generating Livelihoods and Food Security, London: Earthscan

Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision,

Text by: Aaron Thomas

Growing Power
© Sarah Kanouse
Map Milwaukee
Growing Power
© Sarah Kanouse