Now, along with its main farm in Milwaukee, Growing Power, a nonprofit group, has a 40-acre farm in a nearby town, and gardens throughout the city. The group also has operations in Chicago, including a garden at the Cabrini-Green housing project and urban farms in Grant and Jackson Parks.
In addition to retail sales at the Milwaukee headquarters, Growing Power sells to food co-ops, other retail stores and about 30 restaurants in the Milwaukee and Chicago areas.
The Growing Powers headquarters looks like a farm stand in need of a paint job and feels like a 1960s community center. Young and old mill about, shopping and waiting for a tour or a training session or a conference.
There is constant activity, with projects at various stages of completion. Mud-encrusted boots share space with pick-axes and pots of salad greens.
“It’s a crazy place,” Mr. Allen said.
As with any top-notch farmer, Mr. Allen takes special care with his soil. Using millions of pounds of food waste, his farm produces endless compost piles, which are then enriched by thousands of pounds of worms, essential to producing what he calls the highest quality fertilizer in the world.
“There are worms in every pot of soil and every tray of vegetables in this greenhouse,” Mr. Allen said.
His food, free of chemicals, tastes better, Mr. Allen said. “And that’s what the really good chefs understand.”
Paul Kahan, the chef and managing partner of the award-winning Chicago restaurants Blackbird and Avec, is one of the chefs who has been working with Mr. Allen’s organization.
“They are wonderful people and do some interesting things that fit in with what we are trying to do,” Mr. Kahan said. “We buy regular produce, such as tomatoes, but they do some things in particular that we really love: pea tendrils, baby beet greens, nasturtiums, baby mustard greens.”
Mr. Allen said he learned it all from his parents. “We’re having to go back to when people shared things and started taking care of each other,” he said. “That’s the only way we will survive.”
“What better way,” he mused, “than to do it with food?”