Will Allen and Growing Power

Transforming Healthcare Through Urban Farming

Will Allen and Growing Power


Guest Blog Post by Nolan Meyer.

The upcoming Transform symposium will be an extravaganza of innovation you simply cannot miss if you are interested in innovation and design solutions that transform healthcare for both the patient and the provider. We have invited innovators and thought leaders from a wide range of industries to inspire you and give us all actionable ways to start transforming health care today. What makes Transform unique is that the speakers include physicians, scientists, designers, and innovators, who are leaders in their fields, which may not be directly related to health care. Innovation in any field is valuable, and lessons from innovation can be translatable to any area of healthcare.

Case in point: Will Allen. Will is a former professional basketball player turned marketer, turned urban farmer. A self-described farmer, teacher and trainer, “and to some a sort of food philosopher,” Will is the son of sharecroppers. He holds a profound appreciation for the growth and distribution of quality food. Will is a preeminent innovator in urban farming, the practice of growing and distributing food locally in one’s city, town, or village. Will is the founder, CEO, and Farmer-in-Chief of Growing Power, a nonprofit organization that works to expand urban agriculture in order to provide people of all backgrounds with access to fresh, affordable, and nutritious food. Growing Power operates the only farm within the city limits of Milwaukee, and it has an office in Chicago operated by Will’s daughter Erika.

Quite the accomplished gentleman, Will has an impressive list of achievements and accolades. He was named a John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation Fellow in 2008 and was the second farmer ever to be awarded a genius grant for his work by the foundation. A member of the Clinton Global Initiative, Will was invited to the White House in February 2010 to accompany Michelle Obama in launching Let’s Move!, the First Lady’s anti-obesity leadership program. Time Magazine named Will to its list of Time 100 Most Influential People in 2010. Will’s work has been so influential that he was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Agriculture degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012. Along with Charles Wilson, Will co-authored The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People and Communities, published by Gotham Books in 2013.


"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.  I believe we cannot have healthy communities without a healthy food system." - Will Allen


At the 2014 Transform symposium, expect Will to explain how he works to establish such healthy food systems. During the drafting and passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Will and his staff formulated a plan to establish the Centers for Urban Agriculture, an organization that, according to Will, would have incorporated a “national training and outreach center, a large working urban farmstead, a research and development center, a policy institute, and a state-of-the-future urban agriculture demonstration center into which all of these elements would be combined in a functioning community food system scaled to the needs of a large city.

This would have propelled urban agriculture into the mainstream, affording many people of underprivileged economic strata with access to affordable and nutritious food as part of an economic stimulus package.

Eagerly approved by officials at the city, state, and federal levels, the initiative ultimately went unfunded due to the structuring of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which allocated funds primarily to existing infrastructural assets and not to establishing new and innovative organizations. Nevertheless, Will remains unperturbed in his journey to renovate the food industry. He writes in his Good Food Manifesto, “… Surely by now we ought to recognize that the best offense against many diseases is the defense provided by a healthy and adequate diet.

Innovative and dedicated farmers like Will Allen can easily draw direct lines between access to quality food, and the impact on healthcare. Will’s insights and experiences in refining urban agriculture in the modern era must not be missed at Transform this year!


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