Former NBA player Will Allen has brought gardening to urban communities near Milwaukee and Chicago.  His non-profit organization, Growing Power Inc, also has two international centers in Kenya and Ukraine.

He was awarded a MacArthur Grant in 2008:

 “Will Allen is an urban farmer who is transforming the cultivation, production, and delivery of healthy foods to under-served, urban populations.” “Guiding all is his efforts is the recognition that the unhealthy diets of low-income, urban populations, and such related health problems as obesity and diabetes, largely are attributable to limited access to safe and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.”

From an article by Olga Bonfiglio in the Christian Science Monitor

“Whenever Will Allen arrives in a neighborhood, scores of curious children seem to come out of nowhere to see what he’s about. His pickup truck carries spades, hoes, earthworms, seeds, and a truckload of compost – all the components needed to make a garden.

Mr. Allen knows a garden not only gives inner-city kids something to do, but it can also feed them good, nutritious food and invigorate the community at the same time.

This vision of symbiosis between an urban setting and locally grown food is what prompted Allen, a 6 ft., 7 in. former professional basketball player, to purchase the last three farm acres in Milwaukee 16 years ago and invite inner-city youth to help him grow vegetables.

“Food is at the very foundation of community development,” Allen says.

His efforts have paid off in significant ways. Today his nonprofit, Growing Power, operates a handful of urban farms and community growing centers around Milwaukee and downtown Chicago.

In addition, Growing Power is helping to develop urban gardening sites and training centers in several other states and two international centers in Kenya and Ukraine. Its website,, posts research on its farming techniques as well as various how-to gardening videos.

Allen’s low-tech, low-cost farming approach has earned him a reputation as a leader in the urban gardens and sustainability movement and a “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Yet Allen doesn’t want to just grow food, he wants to build healthy communities. The strength of Growing Power’s success is centered on the philosophy that a community must literally be grown from the ground up.

“Every human being should have access to affordable food,” he explains. Around this concept of good food for all, Allen has built a network of relationships among neighborhoods, schools, universities, government, and funding agencies. “Everyone has to be involved. Everyone!” he says.”

Did your parents grow vegetables or flowers when you where growing up?

My grandfather had a garden he was vary proud of.  My only experience was one day when my grandmother got tried of my “helping” her in the kitchen.  “Go help you grandad with his planting.”  I went outside and saw him putting seeds in a row.  I walk over and followed him down the row.  As he put the seeds in the ground I would pick them up.  When he got to the end of the row I proudly showed him the seeds.  He was not to pleased and told me to “Go help your grandma”.

Do you grow vegatibles or flowers now?

The only living thing in my condo, besides a few spiders, is me.  My only skill with plants is to kill them.