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Friday, October 17, 2008

Milwaukee urban farmer recogized for vision of food future

From an article by Karen Herzog and Lee Berquist in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Will Allen was cutting heads of lettuce in a farm field when his cell phone rang.

The caller told him to put down his knife. He had good news:

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, known for its annual award of “genius” grants, was giving Allen $500,000 — no strings attached.

Allen is not your typical farmer. He is the founder of Growing Power, a nonprofit farm in the middle of Milwaukee that raises fresh produce for underserved populations with high rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The son of an illiterate laborer, Allen has been a leading figure in urban agriculture for a decade. Thanks to the growth of the local foods movement, and now the MacArthur fellowship, his approach of melding sustainable farming and mentoring kids is gaining broader attention.

At 6 feet 7 inches tall and 280 pounds, Allen is a former professional basketball player with the biceps of an NFL lineman.

He is not a table-pounder, but he is passionate about his long-held beliefs: Good food helps build healthy communities, and the costs of relying on food that travels long distances have become too great.

“You have to figure out how to grow food closer to where people live,” Allen, 59, said in an interview in his office crammed with boxes of yellow tomatoes and bags of greens.

“We are in a worldwide food crisis and worldwide energy crisis.”

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