Growing Power Initiative to create 150 new jobs aimed at African American males

Alderman Ashanti Hamilton and Mayor Tom Barrett listen as Will Allen, CEO & Founder of Growing Power announce the new grant that will allow for 150 jobs that will focus on employing Black males in Milwaukee. (Photo by Robert A. Bell)

With legislation signed by Mayor Tom Barrett following a unanimous vote by Milwaukee’s Common Council, Growing Power, Inc., has been awarded $425,000 to build 150 hoop house gardens on vacant land within the city. The farms will be tended by beginning urban farmers, creating 150 new jobs that will be filled by unemployed people in Milwaukee.

Growing Power’s proposal, called “Growing Capacity for the Green Economy,” was made in February to Milwaukee’s African American Male Unemployment Task Force, whose mission is to work with community organizations and businesses to reduce joblessness among Black males in Milwaukee. Recent estimates have put Milwaukee’s African American male unemployment rate at over 25 percent, one of the highest rates in the nation.

The grant, which comes from federal Housing and Urban Development funding, will be administered by Milwaukee’s Community Development Block Grant office.

“This is a strong beginning,” said Will Allen, founder of Growing Power and nationally recognized urban agriculture leader. “To do this program right, we will need three times this amount. Our workers will need training and we will need support staff, in addition to the hoop houses themselves.” But he is upbeat. “We can find this money. The low overall cost for the benefits the program will bring – both in terms of creating jobs and providing fresh, nutritious food for urban families – will hopefully be a powerful formula for success.”

Allen predicts that the program will serve as a model for low-cost, minimal-footprint urban farming in other cities and become a significant component of green job creation efforts in the U.S.

Through the Growing Capacity for the Green Economy Project, Growing Power will impact Milwaukee’s African- American population in four ways:

  1. Create a total of 150 fulltime jobs – fifty jobs added each year over the next three years – for workers in the emerging field of urban sustainable agriculture.
  2. Provide effective job preparation in the fields of intensive sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, environmental education and community food systems development.
  3. Improve the quality of life for inner-city children and their families by inspiring and motivating parents and young adults with the preparation to immediately enter the Green workforce. African-American men and their families will acquire dignified employment with livable wages.
  4. Increase the ability of African-American populations to proactively engage with the multitude of stakeholders comprising their local food system to improve their ability to regularly access healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate food. African-American families will live healthier lives with increased access to healthy, affordable, and safe food.

“Milwaukee is a world leader in urban agriculture. This effort combines the benefits of increasing employment opportunities with all the advantages to Milwaukee residents of locally grown good food,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “Growing Power has done some great work in Milwaukee, and, with this project, we are optimistic that the great outcomes will continue.”

“Growing Power is committed to providing 100 percent of the $425,000 grant in matching funds,” said Allen. However, he predicts that for the initiative to be a success, much more will be needed. That money will be used to pay for the training and materials necessary to ensure the proper care of the 150 year-round food production sites throughout the city.