Growing Power – Cultivating Change in Cities through Sustainable Agriculture


Growing Power

The mission: to transform communities. The means: providing safe, affordable, sustainable, and healthy foods to the underserved, underprivileged in urban settings. An effort started in 1993 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a city recently recognized as one of the most segregated and economically disparate cities in America [1] – Growing Power has grown into a national model of successful sustainable food systems in urban settings. Will Allen, founder of Growing Power, was recognized for his efforts when he was named in Time Magazine in 2010 as one of 100 World’s Most Influential People [2].  The vision is simple; “to grow food, to grow minds, and to grow community” [3]. The results are encouraging.


Business Model

Growing Power is a non-profit organization with a vision of transforming communities by serving underprivileged populations. Value is created for and captured by the community in two ways. First, the company provides healthy, fresh, and sustainable foods at affordable prices to underserved populations which would otherwise not have the financial means or access to purchase quality food. A single two-acre farm in Milwaukee helps to feed 10,000 people [4]! Second, the organization works to empower underprivileged youth by involving and employing them in their urban greenhouses, training the youth in job and life skills and working to promote their future employability.


Operating Model

The genius of the simple but effective model is that Growing Power capitalizes on so many aspects of the ecosystem that it is in to promote positive results for that community. It all revolves around the organization’s purposeful location. Growing Power grows its produce from 14 greenhouses on two acres of land right in the city and within six blocks from the largest public housing project in Milwaukee. The proximity to the community enables the system. It eliminates lengthy transportation needs to carry food to sell as produce travels less than 30 miles on average [5], helping to keep costs low and food accessible to the community otherwise served by fast food and convenience stores. It decreases the environmental impact of otherwise having food shipped in over long distances and often from out of state [6]. Growing Power employs the youth of the community to grow its food; the location allows young employees to walk to work, eliminating the potential barrier of accessibility. Its physical visibility in the heart of the city also promotes awareness of the efforts within the broader community. The organization provides hands-on opportunities for children in the community to get involved in learning about growing food sustainably and the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, evolving into a sort of haven for children of the community to learn and experience in a safe environment. Growing Power also benefits from proximity to other businesses and restaurants in Milwaukee; it creates its soil by composting food waste generated in the city where thousands of pounds are generated daily.



The alignment between Growing Power’s business model (transforming a city by serving underprivileged populations) and operating model (organizing in the heart of the community) has promoted the success of the cause. Growing Power creates a model for a sustainable urban food system by organizing in and capitalizing on its ecosystem; choosing a location with the human resources (urban youth employees), raw materials (food waste generation), and proximity to sale (eliminating food transportation needs) to benefit the community.  The model has been successfully replicated in other cities in the midwest.













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Student comments on Growing Power – Cultivating Change in Cities through Sustainable Agriculture

  1. Great concept and wonderfully written.
    Really helps the people to get quality food at affordable prices and also educating the youth of the cities about agriculture, which is difficult in today’s highly urbanized world.
    How do you think can this model can be replicated in other urban centers of the world, where there is a scarcity of land and the population density is way too high?

  2. Great article Jackie! It is really interesting the way communities can work together to produce something really needed such as food. Similar to Sidarth, I am curious about how this business model can be replicated in other areas. Developing countries are deeply affected by a lack of food. However, their conditions are quite different. Some cities like Mumbai or Mexico City are really crowded so I guess it would be difficult to find a spare land to produce a business like Growing Power. Some other communities, like those in Sub-Saharan Africa, live in communities with extremely low density of population, so this model would also face some challenges.
    I am not saying that this model should be applied everywhere. I am just saying that the entrepreneur was really smart at finding a series of conditions that made this model viable in his community in Wisconsin.

  3. Very interesting operating and business strategy synergies highlighted here!! Urban farming was actually something that my team at Mayor’s Office looked at implementing an urban farming pilot in New York City. It seems like a very impactful technology if costs can be controlled–no need for pesticides and it offers high yields, efficient water usage, etc. Do you have an idea on how the economics compare in Milwuakee?

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