Green Giant

Urban agriculture pioneer makes his mark at UM

Will Allen, ’71, the University of Miami’s first black basketball player, took part in Bill Clinton’s global conference for college students at UM this past April—just before being named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine.
Dean Isaac Prilleltensky and EtionyAldarondo

Outstanding in his field: Will Allen, ’71, is one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

The 6-foot-7-inch Allen, a 2010 Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament Legend, attended UM from 1967-71 on an athletic scholarship, majored in physical education, and became team captain, leading in scoring and rebounding for 1971. He also met future wife Cynthia Bussler, A.B. ’69, at UM.

While athletic talent took Allen far from the Maryland farm he grew up on—he played for the American Basketball Association and in Europe—farming fed his soul. Whether playing pro ball for Belgium or succeeding in sales and marketing at Procter and Gamble in the U.S. Midwest, Allen devoted his spare time to growing and sharing food. In 1993, he bought Milwaukee’s last working farm. By 1995 his stewardship and mentoring of area youth had blossomed into a nonprofit called Growing Power Inc. Ever since, the agricultural innovator has been cultivating urban farms. Besides good food, the efforts bring significant environmental benefits, education, and employment to underserved neighborhoods, he says.

“In many of our communities of poverty there are no grocery stores, only fast food and corner stores,” Allen explained in April. “We grow food and get it into those communities around the country and around the world.”

Growing Power is involved in more than 70 food-related projects and outreach programs around the world, with eight Regional Outreach Training Centers in the U.S. and plans for community food centers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Haiti.

In the last few years support has mushroomed: a $100,000 Ford Foundation leadership grant, a $500,000 “genius” award from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, $400,000 from the Kellogg Foundation. So has recognition— the Time honor, White House invitations, and so on.

But Allen’s message and mission remain the same: “We cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system. Local food systems really do work.”