The Food Fighter

CEO, Growing Power

I was raised on a small farm in Bethesda, Maryland. We were poor, but we always shared what we grew.

I left home at 18 and after college ended up playing pro basketball in Belgium. During my free time, I'd drive out to the country. They were farming like we did, taking care of the land. Seeing them reignited a passion.

When I got back to the States, I started growing and marketing my own food in Milwaukee, trucking stuff in, going from store to store, going to the farmers' market. My kids ran a roadside stand. At the time, I was working for Procter and Gamble, because I wasn't making enough on the farm to send my kids through school.

Then in 1993 I found this 19th-century plot—the last remaining farm in the city—with a for sale sign. Something in me said, I need to get this place. So I decided I was going to run it as a for-profit and hire kids from the neighborhood. Restore the greenhouses. Teach them about where their food comes from. About two years in, I was asked to help 25 inner-city Milwaukee kids grow an organic garden. They really surprised me, and that kind of sealed it.

So we've grown from just me volunteering with those kids in 1995 to an organization that now has six farms and 35 employees. I've gotta have my hands in the soil every day. I'm still the main farmer. We have 20,000 pots in our greenhouses, and I plant every one.

We deliver to restaurants, schools, institutions. We have a retail store and belong to a co-op I started with four other farmers. We do a CSA-type market basket, with four different boxes of food that we can drop into any community in Chicago and throughout Wisconsin.

Nothing at Growing Power is new. People have been growing food inside cities forever. We have to grow farmers so we can grow healthy people and sustainable communities.

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