Will Allen

Champion of Urban Farming, Entrepreneur

Right now, there's not a lot of locally-produced food -- in most cities, less than one percent. We have a long way to go. It's a tremendous opportunity.
Will Allen

About the Innovator

From a childhood on a tiny farm in rural Maryland to one of TIME Magazine's 100 people who affect our lives the most, Will Allen's life has been one of extreme and unexpected contrasts.

As a student, Allen's life was defined more by athletics than farming. He was only marginally interested in the small family farm begun by his father, a former sharecropper. Already pegged as a future star by his sophomore year in high school, Allen would go on to become the first African-American to play basketball at the University of Miami, then follow it up with a brief career in professional basketball.

After a few years with Procter & Gamble, Allen became convinced that the key to his future lay in the farming experiences of his youth. He bought a well-used tractor and 100 acres of land in the Milwaukee suburbs and set to work. In the course of the next three decades, he would expand his vision and his enterprise, begin mentoring inner-city youth and evolve into one of the nation's most visible and successful advocates of urban farming.

Why He Innovates

It would be simple to explain Will Allen’s passion for urban farming as something he inherited from his parents. After all, his mother’s family has been involved in farming for nearly 400 years. But there is something even deeper that drives him. In his mind, food is not merely a matter of sustenance. Food is a social tool, a way to build, shape and improve the world around us. A strong food system, he insists, is the backbone of a sustainable community. That is why the nonprofit farms operated by his group, Growing Power, were launched in the heart of underserved urban communities. There, Allen’s farming experiment – it still is an experiment, after all - could find ways not just to feed those who are hungry, but to aid populations who, historically, have had high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Today, Allen’s successes have made him a leader in the field of community-based urban farming and have won him wide recognition, including one of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s so-called “genius” awards.