Ball player plants seeds of inspiration
Will Allen, CEO of Growing Power, Inc., speaks to first-graders next to Mary Hines of Winnetka at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka. Allen, an urban agriculturalist, is the Harold H. Hines, Jr. Visiting Fellow. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:02AM
WINNETKA — Having grown up on a Maryland farm as the second youngest of six children, Will Allen remains rooted to his past.
A former basketball standout at the University of Miami, Allen was drafted in both the NBA and ABA. Later, while playing basketball in the European League for Belgium, Allen observed the methods of local farmers and began his own garden to feed himself, his family and his teammates.
After returning to the United States, Allen took over his wife’s family’s farm in Oak Creek, Wis., and in 1993 founded Growing Power, which helps grow food in rural and urban areas all over the country.
Last week, Allen visited with students at North Shore Country Day School to share his experiences and visit classes throughout the day.
“The food system for most of us worldwide is not working,” Allen said. “Three out of 10 young people tonight will go to bed without a meal. One of the areas we really have to fix is the food that comes into our school systems, especially the public school systems where our food isn’t really good.”
Last year Growing Power fed over 40,000 students, grew over 250,000 pounds of carrots, produced over 10,000 yards of compost and now uses renewable energy to support their operations as they work to support local communities.
“Our good food is our medicine,” Allen said. “(Hunger is) really everybody’s problem because if we have one segment in our society suffering from lack of food then everybody suffers.”
In addition to producing food, Allen’s Growing Power has helped beautify local Milwaukee communities by planting flowers and gardens in vacant lots.
Allen shared some of his secrets, including how they produce their own soil by composting and employing the help of “140 billion” employees – his worms.
“I like those employees because they never talk back,” Allen said to a round of laughter inside the Diller Street Theater. “You just feed them and they do their thing.”
Visiting North Shore Country Day School was a different experience for Allen, who typically visits with teenagers, but this trip allowed him to reach kids of all ages on the kindergarten through high school campus.
After completing his presentation, Allen went to various classrooms to speak with the students on a more personal level. He hopes to have inspired students to make a difference for others.
“Everything we do is about social food and environmental justice,” Allen said. “We want to make sure everyone has access to the same quality of food. Today over 70 percent of the folks who want to be involved in this are under 40-years-old. I have a lot of hope the next generation will be the ones to take this forward.”