BioCycle Trailblazer: Will Allen, Growing Power
Will Allen accomplished something that few of us have been able to do. He elevated composting to rock star status. Will Allen is the former professional basketball player who bought a near bankrupt nursery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, kept the name and turned it into a phenomena. Growing Power, started in 1993, brought urban agriculture alive. Its operations included soil and greenhouse production, aquaculture, and composting. The organization saw as central to its role the education, employment and feeding of young underserved communities in urban areas. Composting became part of the process when Allen saw that the “soil” in Milwaukee was closer to dirt, potentially high in contaminants. He opted to make his own by accepting residential and commercial food scraps and composting them as part of the operation.
Allen was recognized for his efforts with a Ford Foundation grant (2005), a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” (2008) and a Kellogg Foundation grant (2009). He also received an honorary doctor of agriculture degree from the University of Wisconsin. I saw Dr. Allen twice; once at an event for Tilth in Seattle, and once at a Future of Soil Science workshop at the Office of Science and Technology in Washington, DC. He was treated with reverence by both crowds. Growing Power has had some growing pains, and is now bankrupt. That does not detract from what Will Allen has done for our industry and for all of the people that he has impacted along the way. He opened up a path towards healthier people and greener communities and recognized that compost was an integral part of that path.