Every year, the MacArthur Foundation selects 20 to 30 people who show extraordinary talent and promise in their fields, and awards them $500,000 to do whatever they want with. Some people call it the “genius” grant. One of this year’s recipients is an urban farmer, Will Allen. Allen heads the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Growing Power, which produces tons of food within city limits and works with low income populations to improve health and nutrition.
It’s pretty cool that an urban farmer has won the award, because it could raise awareness of just how possible it is to grow food in a city–in raised beds, greenhouses, etc. It might also raise awareness of the need to invest in a little infrastructure to create a healthy local food economy, since Allen has also worked to develop urban distribution networks for local food.
Louisville has made some strides in this area: Grasshoppers distributes locally grown goods to urban restaurants and institutions; Urban Fresh distributes local produce to low income neighborhoods; and the city has developed a road map for enhancing the local food economy. The road map is great; the trouble is, many of the recommendations, such as an indoor, year-round farmer’s market, require private investment, and in this economy, that’s no sure thing.