In the world of food activism, Will Allen is a superstar. The 6-foot-7 former professional basketball player runs Growing Power, a non-profit farming organization based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Growing Power operates urban farms in Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago, and employs dozens of youth who might not otherwise find safe work in their neighborhoods. Allen is an inspiring figure, whose passion and pragmatism come across clearly in his new book The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities.
Born and raised on a small farm in Maryland, Allen learned the skills of farm labor from a young age. When he began to tower over his classmates in the sixth grade, an encouraging coach suggested he play basketball. A successful high school career resulted in over 100 recruitment offers from college teams. After attending the University of Miami on full scholarship, Allen played for a few small American franchises before heading overseas to play professional ball in Belgium. His wife and small children followed.
Injuries and age brought Allen's retirement from basketball in 1977, and he returned to the States. He sold paper goods for Proctor & Gamble and managed stores for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Allen's amiable personality and sports career made him a quick friend to higher-ups in those companies. But though he was financially successful, Allen was antsy. He had planted a small garden in his family's new home, and began to crave the physically and mentally demanding work of producing food.
Then Allen came across an abandoned flower shop that included several dilapidated greenhouses. After brief consideration, he applied for a loan and purchased the fixer-upper with all his savings. He began farming full-time, filling the store with fresh produce. The neighborhood's primarily black population loved his collards, mustard greens, black-eyed peas, and okra, and his farm attracted attention from local youth who were looking for a safe place to spend time after school. Allen did his best to honor the kids' work with stipends and fresh produce.
The Good Food Revolution is as much about the people who shaped Growing Power as it is about the organization itself. Allen tells the stories of his friends, partners, and their children with compassion and honesty. Having struggled with racism and poverty within his communities, Allen is creative and resourceful in his approach to growing and selling food. Growing Power is now involved with dozens of community groups around the country who are planting urban farms, and Allen is know internationally for his important work. I highly recommend this well-written, fascinating, and truly inspiring memoir about hope and resilience through agriculture. And you will be sure to pick up a few farming tips along the way, including the secrets to Allen's renowned nutrient-dense compost!
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work has also been featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.