Last night brought the opportunity to get to see the incomparable MacArthur Fellow Will Allen speak about. . . well. . . food. If you don’t know this guy, you should really check him out, even if you don’t really have much of an interest in the current agriculture revolution.
This guy’s life is one that only a few could really dream of having. He was a state champion basketball player in high school, which lead to him becoming the first African-American to play for the University of Miami. He then got picked in the 4th round during the 1971 NBA draft to play for the Baltimore Bullets (unfortunately never actually playing within the NBA), only to finally end up playing professionally out in Belgium.
That alone is a life to be pretty darn proud of. But, this guy wasn’t done yet. He went on from there to have a relatively successful life in marketing for Proctor and Gamble, building up a bit of a retirement fund. . . which he used to start the business he’s actually famous for, Growing Power.
20 years ago he started this farm in the middle of downtown Milwaukee and since then has developed this international business that goes around training people how to make their own food and feed themselves healthily. He’s been featured on multiple food documentaries talking about the current revolution in food and showcasing how he really gets people down in the dirt and learning about his fantastic processes for bringing food to people who need it the most, as well as some interesting methods on cleaning up the streets of crime and drugs. In 2008 he was awarded the highly sought after MacArthur Fellowship (commonly known as the Genius Grant) for his work in urban farming and sustainable food production. And right now, in the midst of all of the other things he’s working on, he’s developing an enormous vertical farm (stating price being $12 million) to be placed right in the center of Milwaukee.
These are just the highlights folks. . . this dude is one busy (retired) man. And the stuff he’s getting into is paradigm shifting. He’s changing the way people in these communities think about, talk about, and overall consume, food.
I’ve been aware of his work for a couple of years now, only really becoming interested in the specifics a couple of months ago, so when I found out he was coming to town, I knew I needed to get to see this guy in person. Something about this man reminded me of home. Pair his southern charm with a topic I find incredibly important and. . . well, it’s an evening I couldn’t really keep myself from.
Now, I didn’t really learn anything new about this man. I had done the research on him before, I knew about his love of dirt and worms. I did learn some interesting things about his use of compost for heating, but, overall, it was old news. What I did get to see, which isn’t apparent when reading about him, is his love of what he is doing. This man is excited to teach everyone what he has learned, excited to learn new things about agriculture, and constantly striving to find new ways to do things that mankind has stopped doing altogether in the last few decades.
He has become such a central figure in the current food discussion that he is in constant communication with a multitude of universities and medical institutions, conversing about what new things can be done to make our world a better place, and, in many ways, on how we can return to our roots and actually produce food for our local communities, instead of relying of food shipped from the other side of the world.
He is an amazing man, and infectiously inspiring. I know there wasn’t a single person stepping out of that full auditorium who wasn’t thinking about what they could to their gardens to emulate what this man has done. I know my wife was eager to start talking about where we could fit one of his hoop houses in our yard. . .
He’s got a book out (which I regrettably have yet to read) which I’m sure doesn’t do the man justice (mostly because I believe you need to hear him talk just to get an idea of how much you want to make him happy). You can find links to his book as well as news articles, interviews, and everything else you could possibly want on the man and his progressive organization here: http://growingpower.org/in_the_news.htm
Seriously. . . just check him out, only a little bit, and try not to want to get yourself a handful of worms to toss into your backyard.