Name: Will Allen
Theme: Urban Agriculture
Occupation: CEO and Owner of Growing Power
Location: Milwaukee, WI
Favorite Food: Okra
Favorite Food Fact: Growing Power is the last remaining farm and greenhouse operation in the City of Milwaukee.
“I’ve traveled the country and have talked to folks from universities to communities, and people WANT to be a part of this. They really believe and they’re passionate about their food, because that’s the one thing that connects all of us. Everybody’s gotta eat food.”
As the son of a sharecropper Will Allen has always appreciated the value of organic agriculture. After touring Europe as a professional basketball player he retired to Milwaukee where he returned to his roots and founded an urban farm; feeding and employing the youth in his community.
What’s wrong with the way we eat today in the U.S?
We have communities that they call food deserts. I don’t necessarily like that term, but it’s a void of food for many miles. It’s important for the people in those communities to get involved because everybody really wants good food. I mean our kids tell us that all the time, when they eat good food they feel better, they act better, they behave; when they eat bad food, they misbehave and so forth. So, they know what good food is. It’s a matter that they don’t get it very often. They don’t have access to it.
What can we do to make it right?
It’s important that folks in those communities get involved from the very beginning of the planning their communities and so forth. That’s kind of what it’s all about – everything that we do as an organization is wrapped around social justice and to make sure that everybody has access to the same food. I don’t just grow food for this community. We deliver to everybody and every community, regardless of the economic conditions.
When did you start urban farming and why?
Well, I’ve always done organic agriculture. We didn’t call it organic back in the day, when I was growing up. We used chicken manure; we composted and spread it in the field, so I’ve always farmed that way. When I was 18 I left the farm to go away to college. I said, “Never again will I do this hard work. I’m going to go to college, get an education and play professional basketball.” While I played in Europe, one of my teammate’s family was involved in farming and I started hanging out with them. All of a sudden, I had this urge to grow food again. It must have been this hidden passion that I had. And that’s all I wanted to do.