Will Allen, 60, is the CEO of Growing Power, an organization that aims to, as Allen put it, help bring about the “good food revolution.”
“People are really looking at how they can change their local food, and how we make sure that everybody has access to the same food,” said Allen. “It doesn’t make sense that because you have a lot of money you can eat good, and because you have a little bit of money you eat poorly.”
Growing Power, based in Milwaukee, works with other non-profits around the country, putting on workshops in urban communities to show residents sustainable ways to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables in small spaces. Growing Power also operates other farms in Wisconsin and Illinois, including urban farms in Chicago’s inner city.
Through his “community food system,” Allen hopes to bring healthy, affordable food directly to the communities that have the least access to them. He also hopes to help change the way food is distributed in the first place, arguing that instead of transporting food from a few major farms thousands of miles away to its destination, food needs to be grown where the most people are living: cities.
Allen, the son of sharecroppers, had a stint as a professional basketball player (he was the first African-American to play basketball for the University of Miami) and dabbled in corporate America working in sales for Proctor and Gamble. In 1995, he changed course and bought a three-acre farm in Milwaukee, eventually turning it into a teaching center after getting multiple requests to teach young people gardening and farming techniques.
Allen’s work has made him popular among healthy food advocates. But Allen, a 2008 MacArthur Fellow, doesn’t seem phased by his newfound fame. For him, his goal was to give people equal access to healthy food, even before healthy, organic eating became a trend.
“Ten years ago I would do talks, and there would be very few people of color; the people that I did talk to would say things like, ‘why are you doing this, that’s slave’s work,’” said Allen. Today, it’s totally different. Now, he said, “there’s an understanding that we have to do this, it’s not an option.”