Standing 6 feet 7 inches tall, sporting a sleeveless hoodie and University of Miami baseball cap, the former professional basketball player and ex-corporate executive Will Allen is dispelling outdated notions about farming in America.
Since he started his the Milwaukee-based organization Growing Power in 1993, this modern farmer has taken urban agriculture to the next level, spreading awareness that growing food isn’t just for “farmers.”
He’s visiting students at Indiana University to share his story and prove that a little hard work, compost and some worms are enough to change the world.
Allen’s philosophy? Cooperation.
In an interview with Culinate, Allen said the good food revolution needs hundreds of people in every category. “People in finance, nutritionists, chefs who want to use local food, architects, planners, people in renewable energy, innovative people who can build systems that work, like vertical farms. They’re all related to the food system.”
He practices what he preaches with Growing Power. It focuses on community engagement by providing residents with training, outreach and technical assistance for producing their own food.
Raised on a farm in Maryland as the son of sharecroppers, Allen witnessed the inequalities of food distribution at an early age.
After a stint playing professional basketball, he moved to Milwaukee, where he set out to develop an urban farm that would bring fresh affordable food to the city’s impoverished communities.
Growing Power’s flagship community food center in Milwaukee packs a punch for a tiny urban plot. The two-acre urban farm features aquaponics and hoop houses with composting and vermiculture. It is home to over 20,000 varieties of plants and vegetables, along with fish, bees, poultry and goats.
It is also equipped with an anaerobic digester and rainwater catchment system to allow the operation to run at the lowest cost possible.
Growing Power not only provides food for the greater Milwaukee area, but it also offers the opportunity for schools, activists, community members and other farmers to learn sustainable practices for growing and distributing food.
More: Will Allen will speak at the Whittenberger Auditorium on Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 6:00pm. He is the keynote speaker of Indiana University’s SustainIU week.