Four decades after the first Earth Day, the circle of people working toward a cleaner, greener world has expanded way beyond treehugging hippies, red-paint-throwing protesters, posturing politicos, and card-carrying members of enviro groups. To mark this milestone, we’ve found 40 unexpected people who are altering the green landscape.

Erika AllenNat Damm

Erika Allen

Projects Manager, Growing Power
Chicago, Ill.

Erika Allen grew up on a farm in Rockville, Md., working in the fields with her father. “We didn’t have a TV and we relied on a wood stove, but we were known as the ‘food family’ because we had so much food. We could feed 30 people for supper,” she said recently. Today, her dad, Will Allen, is one of the world’s most famous farmers—the recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant for his innovative work as an urban farmer/community organizer in Milwaukee, Wis. Erika is continuing the family mission as head of the Chicago operations of Growing Power, her dad’s nonprofit. Since launching the Chicago branch in 2002, she’s helped make one-time “food deserts” bloom, launching community gardens and bringing fresh food to economically devastated neighborhoods. Growing Power also employs inner-city teens to run a model veggie garden in Chicago’s lake-side Grant Park, where they harvest 50 varieties of heirloom vegetables, herbs, and edible flowers in the shadow of skyscrapers.