Will Allen’s Growing Power gets a million from slaver Wal-Mart

By Rady Ananda

Don’t you just hate it when your heroes sell out? Urban farming revolutionary Will Allen just accepted a cool million from the Wal-Mart billionaires whose ill-gotten gains derive squarely from slave labor.

Very few store employees, and farm workers who supply the behemoth, are paid a living wage.  Meanwhile, the Walton family is worth $90 billion, according to Forbes’ calculations as of September 2010.

Based in Milwaukee, Allen started Growing Power in 1993 to rebuild community food systems by teaching unemployed urban youth how to create healthy soils for growing food. They sought competitive grants to benefit nonwhite youths who are traditionally disadvantaged.

Andy Fisher, who founded the Community Food Security Coalition in 1994, is familiar with Will Allen and Growing Power.  The CFSC recently keynoted Allen at its annual conference.  In his recent Civil Eats column, Fisher confronts Allen’s acceptance of the Wal-Mart donation, cataloging reasons why the populist “Good Food Revolution” should not ally with a food monopoly, including:

  • “Each Wal-Mart store, averaging 200 employees, costs taxpayers approximately $420,750 annually in public social services used by store employees. Multiplied by the chain’s 3,800 stores, this translates into a burden on taxpayers of $1.6 billion annually.
  • “The spectre of Wal-Mart moving into urban areas has other supermarket chains running scared, leading them to demand cutbacks in wages and benefits of their unionized workers across America.
  • “Wal-Mart is undermining the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ campaign to improve farmworker conditions in the tomato fields of South Florida.”

Good, healthy food is not the sole value in the food freedom movement; we also value “fair trade” – meaning laborers and farmers are paid a fair amount for their efforts.  Food freedom and food sovereignty include food justice.

Russ over at Volatility agrees.  “In theory it’s possible for Will Allen’s Growing Power to take greenwashing money from Walmart and use that money to fight Walmart.  Of course, it would help those trying to have faith in Allen if he hadn’t immediately launched into pro-corporate propaganda.” The following is Allen’s press statement:

“We, as a society, can no longer refuse to invite big corporations to the table of the Good Food Revolution… Wal-mart is the world’s largest distributor of food – there is no one better positioned to bring high-quality, locally grown food into urban food deserts and fast-food swamps.  We can no longer be so idealistic that we hurt the very people we’re trying to help.  Keeping groups that have the money and the power to be a significant part of the solution away from the Good Food Revolution will not serve us.”

The World Wildlife Fund applies the same twisted thinking in accepting funds from multinational corporations that destroy the environment, including Monsanto:

“The world’s environmental and conservation challenges are not going be solved without the help and support of big business.”

Right. And the most effective way for big business to do that is to immediately stop exploiting people and the environment. They could start by paying farmworkers a living wage, instead of requiring them to pick over two tons of tomatoes to earn minimum wage in a typical 10-hour workday.

Wal-Mart is the nation’s largest private employer.  Women comprise 65% of Wal-Mart’s hourly employees and only 35% of its managers.  This year, a corrupt Supreme Court threw out the massive class action lawsuit brought by Betty Dukes and others. It overturned decades of labor law by redefining what constitutes a class.  The U.S. Supreme Court no longer recognizes institutional sexism.

The $90-billion-dollar family would have had to cough up a billion to compensate women they exploited.  Cry me a river.

The fact that Wal-Mart refuses to provide adequate health insurance for half its workforce doesn’t seem to trouble Allen.  That most of its employees require public assistance to make ends meet is not a bother, either.

Russ points out that Allen refused a half million dollars from Monsanto back in 2009 on the same grounds it could have used to reject Wal-Mart’s million. Will’s daughter, Erika Allen, serves as Chicago projects manager for Growing Power. She writes:

“We turned it down because of the kind of work we do, the belief in our vision, and to show our solidarity with Via Campesina and the Department of Justice’s antitrust hearings. We advocate seed saving and slow food, and potentially if we accepted the Monsanto/Seminis funds we would have legitimized their work.”

By their own admission, then, by accepting funding from Wal-Mart, Growing Power approves of Wal-Mart and its practices.

Will Allen has traded ethics for dollars, and the folks who will be most hurt by this alliance are the unemployed urban youth and non-whites he so desperately wanted to help.

18 responses to “Will Allen’s Growing Power gets a million from slaver Wal-Mart

  1. He fell under the spell of the almighty dollar.
    His words are nothing more than his own rationalization of his sell-out… it is vain egoism. I feel sorry for him…

  2. reminds me of an old saying that I believe got started in the women’s movement when the Playboy foundation started giving various organizations money: “The main problem with tainted money is there ‘taint enough of it!”

  3. Using the logic of some of you who want to turn hater on Will Allen, Obama should abandon his plans to raise taxes on Millionaires, and Artists should no longer solicit donations from Corporations for public art projects, because the money is so tainted by the source it comes from, that it outweighs the public good to be achieved by putting the money to a good use.

    Growing Power got this grant for a project they planned and designed themselves to build fresh food centers in 20 cities! Also, Growing Power is a registered NON-PROFIT company, which means Walmart is doing this purely as a PR move (ineffective to those who already know they are evil) and as a tax write-off, (of course). This means that the fact of where the money came from means nothing in comparison to how it will be used to improve public health.

    This headline should read: “Will Allen cons One Million dollars out of Walmart to do something that will actually help people.” Growing Power’s mission is unchanged and Will Allen’s ethics are unwavering. He is a hero!

    • Jennifer Jackson

      Excellent points, Michael. I think Will Allen has done a world of good. Met him last night as he described his book to kids. What a story, and I believe a deeply credible person.

  4. well, time will tell whether his deal with the devil bodes well for fresh food, eh?

  5. believe he will do good with it. not all moral people have to stay poor. and why cant they support his planning and design. and dont even tell me for one thought that people who shop and work at Growing Power never shop at Evil Mart -…

  6. I never shop at Evil Walmart and I have been a Growing Power supporter for nine years, including buying, consuming and selling their products.

  7. Pingback: Controversy in the local food universe | mikenowak.net

  8. Wording the mention of Will Allen’s help to unemployed and non-white urban youth as if it were not only past-tense…but didn’t even happen…makes me wonder a bit whose payroll the author of such a puritanical rant. Will Allen and Growing Power have fed hand-raised organic produce to tens of thousands of low-income folks…and Growing Power is bringing more urban youth of color into hands-on involvement with organic gardening, and vermiculture, aquaponics, and the need for Healthy foods…than any other organization in North America.
    So you think you get to write Will Allen off as having traded his ethics for money?
    How many folks did you teach to farm for themselves this year?
    How many low-income folks did you feed?
    Check yourself and your punkass deskjockey indictment of one of our best.

    • Will Allen’s hands are definitely dirty…mostly with worm castings, compost, and about any damn kind of edible vegetable or fungus you could grow in an urban greenhouse. I work with a lot of Mexican and Ecuadoran immigrant workers…their sympathies with fellow immigrant laborers and especially campesinos and campesinas run deep…but if you were to show them what Will Allen does in a year, and what you do in a year…and tell them you think he has sold out and is negated by getting a Million USD to use to continue Growing Power…well… I think they would be polite to you, but avoid you. What are you doing to bring African American youth into the organic foods movement? Not making this personal as much as seriously asking what part of the amazingly crucial work they at Growing Power are DOING do you not get? Taking a donation from a big bad Megalithic boxstore is an incidental…and not for putting up anybody’s nose, or a lavish party…it’s going to fund more teaching, and more freakin’ hoophouses!
      Will is just one of a Gazillion folks up here in the Great Lakes area doing amazing and bravely noble things…I have worked with him and laughhed with him, and he has been gifted with a lot of charisma and all…but he is sacrificing a lot in giving himself as wholly to the Peoples needs as he does…and along with collaborations he has helped build here in Minneapolis; his contribution is showing and Growing and helping make things better here in Minneapolis. People here have gotten inspired by Will and his Team’s work and built coalitions bridging Native, White Academic, Black Church, EuroAmericanHippieVeggieWOOFers, Kenyan Tribal…and other cultures. They are building wormbeds, and hoophouses, and growing food and raising worms…and even though he is certainly old enough to have retired many years ago…he keeps bringing his messy,beautiful promethian flame of green Hope. I suggest some ongoing respect for that, even if you have criticism of a choice in receiving funding…make sure you are helping move the good work forward,
      Not just slamming someone who is doing a lot more of it.

  9. Allen is acting pragmattically and is likely to foster more real change than 1000 chattering naysayers.Big retailers expose millions of people to new food choices.Some of those people will continue buying there while others will start to produce their own or seek out the suppliers directly. This can only bennifit organic growers. If Walmart wants to fund something positive we should encourage that.

  10. The following is something I posted on the Permaculture Forum—None of the trite I have read today bothers me—— the article…..This is going to sound weird. One of my favorite people on this earth is someone who I just met this week. And I didn’t meet him in person, I met him on YouTube. His name is Will Allen and he is the founder and spokesperson for Growing Power, an aquaponics green house operation in Milwaukee Wisconsin. It’s a huge operation that also has a farm and has expanded to Chicago. They raise,fish, vegetables, worms, chickens, mushrooms and just about anything else you would want to see in a greenhouse. They go to extremes to use every available niche. There are hanging baskets everywhere, fish tanks under plantings and compost bins covered with plant pots. Even the pathways are sometimes covered in vegetables.

    The place has many employees and many more volunteers. It’s a nonprofit organization which is not something I would not usually come out in favor of. But the educational nature of this facility outweighs any negative from its drain on public funds. Thousands of people who may have never considered growing their own food are exposed to the idea. Will tries to get every customer to take a tour so that they can learn how everything works. Although this operation is worth millions, he explains to them that it can be easily scaled down to fit into their own home situation and budget.

    They also do more in-depth tours and classes for those wishing to set up a commercial sized operation. While many large operations advertised to the world that they are doing something so unique that only they are qualified, Will constantly pushes the idea that everything visitors see is within their own reach. If they can’t afford long-term in-depth classes, they can volunteer and learn everything for free. He also works to encourage duplication of his success throughout the United States and in impoverished places around the world.

    Aquaponics and vermiculture are the two most obvious deviations from the norm in greenhouse production. They also raise chickens and goats. Compost piles are managed to produce free heat and compost is piled against the side of greenhouses to insulate the lower walls and foundation from the frozen ground in winter.

    Dietary education is an important facet of the work done at growing power. People of lesser means are quite often malnourished due to income and poor food choices. A fast food culture relying heavily on pork, beef and chicken has fostered a culture which chooses unhealthy food over fruit vegetables and fish. Will exposes young people from the inner-city to healthy foods that they are unlikely to encounter in their day-to-day lives. This will have a long-term positive effect which could go on for generations. —————————————————————————————————-

    Not everything they do is permaculturey. They use plenty of propane and electricity and because of various grant monies and unpaid labor it could be argued that it is not sustainable. But when compared to other cold climate greenhouse operations, his is by far the lesser evil when looking at inputs. This operation is in an area of high unemployment where many people have found that their skill sets are no longer wanted by industry. So, I think it has to be looked at as a training facility or school within an urban farm. Schools gobble up public money all the time. In the long run Will’s work will save vast quantities of resources and could possibly employ thousands of displaced workers. His work on international projects will literally save some from starvation. ———————————————————————————————————————————–
    Will is 62 years old. His parents were South Carolinan sharecroppers who saved their money and bought a farm near Rockville Maryland. He grew up on the farm and learned from his parents. I imagine frugality and the value of hard work and sacrifice would be part of the upbringing of any child whose parents worked their way from landless poverty to owning a successful market garden.

    He was the first African-American to play basketball for the University of Miami. Although he never made the NBA, he did play professionally for a few years but had the good sense to move on to other things when he was 28 years old.

    He bought the Growing Power facility in 1993. It was a former plant nursery which was in foreclosure. He also bought 100 acres which belonged to his wife’s parents and another farm. His daughter is currently running a newer facility in Chicago.
    Will has received numerous accolades for his work in urban farming. He received a Ford Foundation “Leadership Grant”, a MacArthur foundation “Genius Grant” and the Kellogg foundation has given him a grant to create jobs in urban agriculture. ———————————————————————————————————————–

    The Allen family have been involved in agriculture for generations. First as slaves, then as sharecroppers, then as owners of a vegetable operation and now Will is at the forefront of food security, urban farming and aquaponics development both in the United States and internationally. His daughter is furthering this good work in Chicago.

    There are very few people whose opinions I value after knowing them only a short time. Will is one of those people.

    Check him out on YouTube and Wikipedia. You can search him by name or any search including “Growing Power” will lead his way.

    I hope to take my tour bus to Milwaukee one day, filled with others who wish to learn from Will.

    — Will Allen—one of the good guys —

    Thank you: Dale Hodgins — leaning slightly to the left today.

  11. Yes. Miigwetch to Will Allen and his daughter Erika, for their endless dedication to the teaching of the Growing Power system. They are both true heros. We are so very fortunate to have them in our community. They are a treasure.

  12. DualPersonality

    Mr. Allen sounds like a very admirable and innovative person. Many wonderful men and women make regrettable decisions , particularly where money is involved. He probably really believes what he is saying.
    I don’t see any comments denying Mr. Allen’s achievements; only concern about his organization accepting money from a destructive source. Why is this rousing such hostility from some people?
    I think we all have to beware of idolizing terrific people-I caught myself doing this with Joel Salatin, Michael Pollan, and Mark McAfee, for example. We should praise them for their great accomplishments and speak out when we think they’re wrong. Don’t we behave this way to people we care about in our everyday lives?

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