Fifteen years ago, a former professional basketball player named Will Allen made a most unlikely career move: he decided to launch a farm in a low-income neighborhood in Milwaukee. His farmhands would be un- or ill-employed neighborhood teens.
At the time, brutal economic conditions were pushing the nation’s few remaining African-American farmers into bankruptcy; and the concept of "urban farming" seemed more like an oxymoron than an answer to the inner city’s economic and public-health problems.
Since that time, Allen’s organization Growing Power has established itself as a model for how urban resources can be used to grow delicious, healthy food and revitalize neighborhoods at the same time. Growing Power’s model was so successful in Milwaukee that Allen’s daughter Erika has established an equally innovative offshoot in Chicago (which I wrote about recently here.)
Today, the MacArthur Foundation announced it has awarded Allen one of its prestigious "genius" fellowships. I hope this award helps Allen spread his vital message: food need not be a vehicle for spreading poor health and sucking resources out of low-wealth communities. It can also simultaneously build health and wealth. Congratulations to the Allen family on this much-deserved honor.