will allen cover photo

Twenty plus years ago, a farmer by the name of Will Allen bought three acres of land in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for what he says were selfish reasons.

“I wanted to sell my produce,” Allen said. The former professional basketball player and retired Proctor & Gamble employee had recently taken over a farm run by his wife’s family, but he needed more space.

Will allen with Youth Corp

Photo: Growing Power

And then something happened. A group of young people that wanted to grow and sell organic produce approached Allen for help.

Allen gave the kids a piece of land, some plants and helped them with the growing season. It was the beginning of the nonprofit Growing Power. For the past 23 years, Allen’s organization has worked to create sustainable food systems through a series of programs that teach growing methods, distribute food and provide farm training to communities.

will allen

Photo: Growing Power

Young people remain at the center of Growing Power. Youth programs in Milwaukee and Chicago give students the opportunity to learn about agriculture, while learning how to manage a business.

“Kids in the city don’t have much to do,” Allen said. “I’ve been able to introduce them to something positive.”

Students who participate in the year round programs are between the ages of 10 and 18. With an emphasis on preparing students for higher education and jobs, the programs teach students about local food systems, where food comes from and the importance of eating fresh food.

“I want to pass on what I’ve learned from my little corner of agriculture to the next generation,” Allen said.

will allen

Photo: Jennifer Baynes Picciolo

It’s an item that Allen hasn’t checked off his to-do list, yet. He plans on developing a think tank of young people under 40 with the goal of answering the question, “How do we end world hunger with good food in your generation?”

The answer, he says, lies in local food systems and young people.

“We can help end world hunger by developing local food systems,” Allen said, adding that he believes the creativity he sees in the next generation could mean an answer as long as the younger generation also learns from the past.