This isn't my usual reading material, but after reading citisven's diary, The Good Food Revolution Goes Vertical, I knew this was a book I had to read. I brought it on the bus to my class at College of the Canyons in Valencia, and, since I'm in a rather hyper-emotional phase of my grieving process, there were tears in my eyes ALL the way there as I read the book. That doesn't usually happen to me. It's a wonderful book about, as the subtitle says, growing healthy food, people and communities, and, since citisven did a wonderful job in HIS diary of conveying the scope of the book, I'm going to be selective. I will say that this changed the way I look at the places where I buy food, and I suspect that unless you're receiving a CSA box every month, it will do the same for you.
citisven does a very good job with the plot of the book (yes, nonfiction can have plots too) in his diary, and I understand VERY well how Will Allen, especially when he was working for Procter and Gamble in Milwaukee, would have understood that his mission in life was to bring good food to some of the neighborhoods he looked at. The story of how he got the greenhouses left by the last florist to grow his own flowers in Milwaukee ready to grow fruits and vegetables, even before the vermiculture and the aquaponics, is worth reading the book for, because there you meet the first people that the enterprise touched, Karen Parker, who had worked at one of the stores he managed for Kentucky Fried Chicken, and her two children. The story of her son, DeShawn, is amazingly touching.
Interwoven through the book is the history of Black Americans after the Civil War. He explains sharecropping better than I have seen it explained in any textbook, and he shows that some of the migrants North brought their ability to farm with them and indeed farmed in the urban areas where they could. He explains how inner city neighborhoods become food deserts, and how some presidential administrations actually aided that process, and he shows you how that doesn't have to be so using his own journey into agriculture as an example. It's just wonderful.
He also provides examples of how to form an organization, how to find people to write grants, how to teach what you've developed. If you are a community organizer, you can certainly learn from will Allen, who started as a de facto organizer and then, through his teaching and his desire to get the young people of his community interested in his projects, understands that he IS one. The MacArthur grant is almost incidental, and very very well deserved.
And about the title of my diary. Aside from supplying the fascinating narrative of a man who realizes that a community he lives near is essentially without fresh food and that he misses the farming he used to do as a child, The Good Food Revolution stops every so often so Allen can talk for a page or so about a subject that doesn't fit easily into his narrative. This, "Be a Do Tank," is worth quoting in its entirety:
I visit groups who receive grants to build urban gardens but after a year the money is all gone, and they have not made any compost or grown a single fruit or vegetable. They have spent all their time in meetings. I tell people that they need to be a do tank and not a think tank. It's pleasant to talk about a garden you might build, because your idealism has not yet been tempered by the difficult process of actually doing anything. It's another thing altogether to start a project, to get your hands dirty, and to have some inevitable setbacks and disappointments.A guide to providing good food in a food desert, certainly. But when someone who has received a MacArthur grant tells you how he did it intentionally in a way that you can adapt his process into your own, with the planning and the setbacks and everything, it's eminently worth reading. Every inner-city neighborhoods, and lots of rural places in this country, should have installations like this.
I know from experience that it helps to make a good plan before you launch into any project. Don't spend so much time on your plan, however, that you never get around to doing something. As Teddy Roosevelt once said -- it is better to be the man or woman in the arena -- the one whose "face is marred by dust and sweat and blood" -- than it is to be a person who just talks about doing things. Be a person of action. (My emphasis)
Thank you for presenting this book, citisven. This really IS a story about what's right with this country, and with the world.