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This week on Rootstock Radio, host Theresa Marquez speaks with Erika Allen, Chicago and National Projects Director for the nonprofit organization Growing Power. Erika is the daughter of Growing Power’s founder Will Allen, and as such, spent her formative years involved in all aspects of farm management–from transplanting seedlings to managing farm stands and farmers markets. She received her BFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and an MA in Art Therapy from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Erika sees creativity as a necessary component of her work in urban agriculture. “Whether it’s land or human resources” she says, you’ve got to be creative “in the same way you make a creative piece of art when you’re trying to respond to a social or personal condition.” This inventive bent might be precisely why Growing Power is having such a huge impact in the Chicago area. Erika shares that in communities where her program is involved, both crime and conflict went down because of the on-site employment provided by Growing Power. In speaking of the numbers of people these programs have touched, she doesn’t miss a beat when she says “thousands.”

Growing Power’s Chicago programs serve a wide range of ages, but Erika estimates that three to four hundred youth participate each year. Youth get hands-on experience combined with agriculture education, conflict-resolution, art and community building. This creates an environment where, Erika says, “a kid on the south side of Chicago can say ‘I want to go into farming’ and have kind of an idea of what that looks like.” In addition, Erika says they develop “a respect for and connection to the rural environment.”

Erika emphasizes: “We’ve proved you can do it. We’ve proved you can grow food on roofs.” So where will Growing Power take urban agriculture from here? Listen at the link above, or on iTunes or Stitcher to learn why food insecurity is about much more than simply lack of access to affordable, nutritious food.

Hear more from Erika about urban farming and teaching the next generation at the link above, on iTunes or Stitcher!