Common Reading Program

Summer Assignments

Message to New First-Year Students

You will receive a copy of The Good Food Revolution during your Advising and Registration Day. You are expected to read the book during the summer and bring the book with you to campus in the fall semester.

There will be programming related to the book during New Student Orientation and Husky Kick-off (the first two weeks of school). In addition to programs related to themes of the book, over half of new students will use the book in one or more courses.

Below, please find some questions and material to support you in your exploration of the book during your summer reading experience and to help hone your critical reading skills.

“Reading is thinking. It is an active process of identifying important ideas and comparing, evaluating and applying them.” Kathleen McWhorter, Reading Across the Disciplines (2002)

Questions for Discussion

Before You Read:

  • What do you know about local growing seasons and growing conditions where you’ve grown up? What sorts of food is grown locally?  Do you have a Farmer’s Market in your community?
  • Think about where you can buy groceries.  How far from your residence must you travel? Is this food source accessible by public transportation or only by car? In how many stores must you shop to have a balanced, healthy and affordable diet?
  • What do you know about ‘food insecurity’? Do you know what resources there are for people living without sufficient access to food? What do you know about the food stamp program? What it covers? Where it can be used?
  • How have different types of food or familiar dishes shaped you growing up?
  • Are you aware of and can you identify the ways in which your food choices have an impact on the environment? Specifically within your community?

While You Read:

  • What are the challenges that Allen identifies in the local community with regard to access to convenient, affordable, healthy foods? How does he explain the connections between communities and the land?
  • Describe the neighborhood in Milwaukee where Allen sets up his urban gardening program.  What key issues does that neighborhood face (e.g., food access issues, poverty, social issues)?
  • What life circumstances lead Allen to his urban gardening work? How does he use skills from his varied work life experiences to operate the garden? What aspects of his prior life does he highlight as influential on the work he now does?
  • “The fate of a seed can be predicted by the health of the soil where it takes root,” Allen writes. “This is true of summer crops.  It can be true, in another sense, of people.” In what ways does The Good Food Revolution try to draw a connection between ecology and human development?
  • Allen identifies himself as the child of a sharecropper. What is sharecropping and how is it situated within American history? What has been its impacts?
  • How does Allen’s project connect to the historical experiences of African Americans? How does Allen connect his own experiences to the Great Migration, the movement of Blacks from the rural South to the urban North, Midwest and West?
  • How has the disruption of the relationships that African Americans had to the earth impacted their health and well-being? What historical and political forces engendered this disruption? How might the kind of reconnection that Allen advocates change the health of communities?
  • What are some of the techniques and infrastructures Allen pioneers to develop innovations in sustainable urban agriculture?

After You Read:

  • After reading the book, have you changed the way you look at our food systems? If you are inspired to do things differently, what changes will you make? How might similar issues be addressed in a rural community in the US? Elsewhere around the globe?
  • Why do you think Allen has been so successful? What is it about him that really captures the imagination? What factors of his background contribute to his success? What is it about the way he interacts with people and the community that helps foster his success?
  • The development of Growing Power depended on a number of committed individuals -- from Alison Meares Cohen of Heifer International, who funded Mr. Allen’s first work with works, to Hope Finklestein, who provided the organization its name and shaped its mission as a “community food center.” What does the book seem to say about the roles of chance encounters in our lives? How much does it suggest that we are self-determined and how much the product of other people?
  • Mr. Allen has described his urban farm as a “work in progress,” and the book reveals how his urban farm has developed incrementally over two decades.  He says that “all big things are created by a slow and steady accumulation of small, stumbling steps.” Are there cases in your life where you have not pursued a passion because the road ahead seemed too long or where your idealism has led to inaction? What might be a takeaway from Allen’s experience?