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• Not every nonprofit organization is built sustainably. Many will fail and close for reasons of financial distress.
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Will Allen is a beloved figure. The former professional basketball player and founder of the Milwaukee-based nonprofit Growing Power has had an influence on urban agriculture that is as conspicuous as his 6’7 inch frame and the characteristic sleeveless hooded sweatshirts that reveal his lumberjack biceps.
In 1993, Allen bought the city’s last remaining farm at 5500 Silver Springs on Milwaukee’s north side, four miles from the nearest grocery store and five blocks from the nearest public housing projects. What grew from that 19th-century greenhouse could not be measured in pounds, bushels, or even dollars. What arose was a nonprofit organization that expanded people’s ideas about what was possible in local food production and youth education.
Then, last November, facing insurmountable debt and legal pressure (the nonprofit has eight pending judgments totaling nearly half a million dollars) the board of directors decided to dissolve Growing Power. Many questions remain about what caused the organization’s downfall, but as Allen told Civil Eats recently, he has no intention of retiring.
The shutdown was unfortunate and something I had no control over. We’re trying to get this place back to its original glory days. What’s been reported is absolutely not true. I can’t tell the story because it’s too involved, but I can tell you that we’re on our way back.
As the story unfolds—and accounts differ—the downfall of Growing Power raises larger questions about the risks of scaling up urban agriculture in today’s complex philanthropic world.
Read more about the rise and fall of Growing Power by Stephen Satterfield at Civil Eats