Will Allen. Urban Farmer. Now this guy is a man of action, putting money where his mouth is and making a difference in hundreds of communities throughout the US !
Now in his 60s Will has been working tirelessly for years ‘making healthy food [available and] affordable to everyone’. Now Will says he always had some farming blood in him but never did he think of embracing it; rather starting his adult life out as a professional basketball player. Graduating from the University of Miami in 1971 he then went on to play basketball professionally in Europe.
Funnily enough it was in Belgium helping a teammate’s parents out on their farm that rekindled Will ties to farming and the land.
"I touched the soil, and there I was. I helped them plant potatoes," he says. "Everybody should touch the soil. It really changes how you feel about everything in your life. It's therapeutic." [cite]
Despite reconnecting with the land in Europe the corporate life was for him, or so he thought. Managing several Kentucky Fried Chicken Restaurants in the Melaukee area, then working for Procter & Gamble as a sales rep along with raising a family.
In 1993 all that changed. Seeing potential in a run-down greenhouse for sale on a property, in what Will called a ‘food desert’; an area where very little fresh food could be found and fast-food restaurants ran unchallenged Will quit his job and bought into this ‘potential’.
In that same year Will founded Growing Power a non-for-profit organisation with a mission to ‘provide safe, affordable and healthy foods to communities’. It also turned out to give local teens a chance to work and learn about the farming and fresh food. ‘What started as a simple partnership to change the landscape of the north side of Milwaukee has blossomed into a national and global commitment to sustainable food systems.’ [cite] This year (2013) they are celebrating their 20th anniversary of growing food, educating minds, and rebuilding communities.
Growing Power’s vision: To inspire communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound; creating a just world, one food-secure community at a time.
Utilising vertical space and growing techniques such as Aquaponics, Growing Power has been providing fresh food to hundreds of families. It now has more than 100 employees and 200 acres of production across the US, showing everyone that fresh healthy food can be grown anywhere.
The Growing Power story and work have been noticed and supported by numerous influential parties; from First Lady Michelle Obama, who invited Will to the White House in February 2010 to help launch her "Let's Move" campaign, to Time magazine ( Will was included in the Time’s 100 World's Most Influential People in May 2010).
Will Allen and Growing Power have also been recognised for their hard work with awards and grants ranging from the John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation’s “genius grant” in 2008 to the Green Giant Green Award designated for Will Allen’s College Scholarship Fund for Growing Power Youth Corps.
Growing delicious fresh food, teaching others how to do the same, and supporting local communities, Will is doing all the right things! He is passionate about his projects and truly wants to equip everyone with the skills to provide for themselves. I commend Will in all that he is doing and encourage others to use him as a role model and inspiration for their own local works!