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From basketball pro to “Growing Power Inc.,” Will Allen brings his mission to MSU

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After a career as a professional basketball player, Will Allen left a corporate marketing career behind to found Growing Power Inc. in Milwaukee. He will speak at MSU and sign his book, “The Good Food Revolution,” on Nov. 2.

Will Allen grew up on a farm in Maryland, the second-youngest of six children of a sharecropper. He vowed he would never return to farming and became the first African-American scholarship athlete at the University of Miami, where he was team captain and graduated with a degree in education.

At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 2, Allen will speak at a public affairs convocation in Juanita K. Hammons Hall at Missouri State University. The event is free, and Allen will stay after his presentation to sign his book, “The Good Food Revolution.”

Drafted by the NBA and ABA, Allen played a year in the ABA, then opted to play for Belgium in the European League. While there, he observed the methods used by local farmers, and began to grow food for his family and teammates.

Will Allen grew up on a farm in Maryland, and swore he wouldn’t return to farming. Now he’s founder of Growing Power Inc., which focus on teaching inner city children gardening skills.

Upon returning to the U.S, Allen began a career in corporate sales and marketing. Job opportunities brought him to his wife’s family farm in Oak Creek, a suburb of Milwaukee.

Eventually,  Allen tired of corporate life and took over operation of the farm. In 1993, wanting a place to sell his produce, he located a vacant three acre garden center on Milwaukee’s north side. As it turned out, the small property was the last tract in the City of Milwaukee zoned for agriculture.

Allen realized he could sell food from his own farm and grow food in a neighborhood with  little fresh food.

Now he’s farming again on a larger scale as president and CEO of Growing Power Inc.. He is a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and one of Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”

“If people can grow safe, healthy, affordable food, if they have access to land and clean water, this is transformative on every level in a community, “ Allen says. “I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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