Posted on December 5, 2011 with No Comments
Visionary Leader and Farmer, Will Allen, Credits his Success to the
Values Learned as a Student-Athlete
Milwaukee, WI (December 1, 2011) – When Will Allen left his family’s farm to play basketball at the University of Miami (Florida), he thought he had left the farm for good. Now, 40 years later, Will Allen is elbow deep in dirt again and committed to growing food for the “Good Food Revolution.”
Known as the “Teddy,” the Theodore Roosevelt Award is the highest honor the NCAA bestows. Each year the award is presented to a former NCAA student-athlete for whom athletics in college and attention to physical well-being after graduation have led to a distinguished career of national significance. Allen will receive the award January 13, 2012 at the NCAA Honors Celebration during the 2012 NCAA Convention in Indianapolis.
Allen, an urban farmer, has gained regional and national attention over the last two decades for his work as the lead trainer and Chief Executive Officer of the non-profit organization, Growing Power, Inc., headquartered in Milwaukee, WI. In 1993, Allen offered a group of teens the opportunity to help him renovate the Growing Power greenhouses in order to grow food for their community. What started as a simple partnership to grow a few gardens blossomed into a national and global commitment to sustainable food systems. Allen’s knowledge and commitment turned the innovative Growing Power Community Food Center into the demonstration model and training grounds to support this work.
“I believe that healthy communities cannot exist without healthy food systems,” said Allen. To grow these healthy communities, Growing Power welcomes anyone who is interested in urban sustainable food systems, renewable energy, the environment, and of course, food, to participate in the many educational opportunities the organization offers. In particular, Growing Power provides regular trainings, resource development, technical support and outreach for limited resource farmers and socially disadvantaged communities.
“I really value this award, because it shows that student-athletes can provide more than just entertainment,” said Allen, who was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in 2010. “You can do something positive to impact people’s lives beyond just having them watch you play a sport. I hope other student-athletes will realize that there’s so much more to life than their sport.”
Allen often uses sport metaphors when encouraging his Growing Power staff of more than 100. During a recent staff meeting he said, “We all have to work together, like a basketball team. We have to perfect the same play and do it over and over again. And, if it doesn’t work, then we alter our game plan, but we have to trust each other to know the play.” Allen knows his game, and has lead his Growing Power team to succeed in developing and shaping the Good Food Revolution.
“Will Allen is one of the many examples of a student-athlete who makes a difference in the world after their playing days have ended. Mr. Allen’s passion to create healthy communities by providing fresh, safe, affordable and nutritious food – regardless of economic background – is inspiring,” said NCAA President Mark Emmert. “I am pleased to present the 2012 Theodore Roosevelt Award to Mr. Allen.”
About Growing Power
Growing Power was started in Milwaukee, Wis., in 1993 by Will Allen, a 2008 winner of a MacArthur “Genius Award” who has long worked to produce and deliver healthy food to low-income communities. It is a national nonprofit organization and land trust supporting people from diverse backgrounds, and the environments in which they live, by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food for people in all communities. Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, on-the-ground demonstration, outreach and technical assistance through the development of Community Food Systems that help people grow, process, market and distribute food in a sustainable manner.
About Will Allen
Will Allen, son of a sharecropper, former professional basketball player, ex-corporate sales leader, and now farmer, has become recognized as among the preeminent thinkers of our time on agriculture and food policy. The founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., a farm and community food center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Allen is widely considered the leading authority in the expanding field of urban agriculture. At Growing Power and in community food projects across the nation and around the world, Allen promotes the belief that all people, regardless of their economic circumstances, should have access to fresh, safe, affordable and nutritious foods at all times. Using methods he has developed over a lifetime, Allen trains community members to become community farmers, assuring them a secure source of good food without regard to political or economic forces. In 2010 Mr. Allen joined First Lady Michelle Obama as she launched the White House’s “Let’s Move” campaign to address issues affecting American youth and the risk of obesity and Mr. Allen was also recognized as one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
About the NCAA and the NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award
Founded more than one hundred years ago as a way to protect student-athletes, the NCAA continues to implement that principle with increased emphasis on both athletics and academic excellence.
The Theodore Roosevelt Award is presented annually to a distinguished citizen of national reputation and outstanding accomplishment who, having graduated from an NCAA member institution and having earned a varsity athletics award in college or having participated in competitive intercollegiate athletics in college, has, by a continuing interest and concern for physical fitness and competitive sport and by personal example exemplified most clearly and forcefully the ideals and purposes to which college athletics programs and amateur sports competitions are dedicated.
Anne Eaton: 414.527.1546 ext.102
Emily Potter: 317.917.6984
More About Will Allen and the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award
By Michelle Brutlag Hosick
When Will Allen was a lanky seventh-grader in rural Maryland, his lack of coordination and meager basketball skills didn’t deter his middle school basketball coach.
The coach saw only a six-foot four-inch 13-year-old who had a passion for a game he learned on his family’s farm, aiming for a peach basket attached to an old oak tree. Allen fell in love with the game, which he saw as a more exciting alternative to playing the outfield for his middle school baseball team.
That passion led Allen to the University of Miami (Florida) as the school’s first African-American men’s basketball player, a professional hoops career in Europe and eventually his life’s work as an urban farmer and creator of the nonprofit Growing Power.
Allen will be honored with the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, the Association’s highest honor, at the 2012 NCAA Convention in Indianapolis. Allen, the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant,” and grants from both the Kellogg and Ford foundations, said the NCAA honor will be particularly special to him.
“I really value this award, because it shows that student-athletes can aspire to be more than just entertainment symbols for people,” said Allen, who will be formally recognized at the Honors Celebration on Jan. 13. “You can do something positive with your life to impact other people’s lives in a different way than just having them watch you play a sport. I hope other student-athletes will realize earlier that there’s more to life than just playing (their sport). You need to start envisioning the day when you’re not playing sports.”
Named after President Theodore Roosevelt, whose concern for the conduct of intercollegiate athletics led to the formation of the NCAA in 1906, the award is given annually to an individual “for whom competitive athletics in college and attention to physical well-being thereafter have been important factors in a distinguished career of national significance and achievement.” Dwight Eisenhower was the first recipient of the “Teddy” in 1967.
Allen’s career almost never got started. By his own admission, he was a terrible basketball player when he started, gifted with height but little else. His own work ethic – and a summer job at a swimming pool next door to the armory where the American University men’s basketball team practiced – developed his skills. From the time he was a rising eighth-grader, Allen spent his summers scrimmaging against college players, eventually holding his own. By the time he graduated from high school, he had more than 100 scholarship offers. He left his family’s farm and swore he’d never return to that life.
He chose Miami for a variety of reasons, including the climate, the diversity of the city and his sense of ease with his future teammates. The fact that he would be the first African-American to play for the school had little influence over his decision. He was comfortable at Miami, and that was it. His first year, he fell in with the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and met a senior named Cynthia who would become his wife before he finished his sophomore year. He credits both the Zetas and his wife for helping him adjust to college life far from home and family.
He played basketball at Miami from 1967 to 1971 and studied physical education and sociology, with the thought of one day becoming a coach. After graduation, he caught on with a few professional American teams in the NBA and the ABA, but he spent most of his career in Europe. While he was in Belgium, Allen worked on the family farms of several of his teammates.
“When I left the (family) farm at 18, I said, ‘Never again do I want to do this work.’ I think most farm kids are like that. Then I went out with my teammates (in Belgium) and helped them plant potatoes. They farmed the way that we did – without a lot of mechanized equipment. They did everything by hand,” he said. “I realized I had a hidden passion and wanted to farm again.”
When he got back to the States, he worked in sales and marketing for Proctor and Gamble. But he also started growing produce on some land outside of his wife’s native Milwaukee. Eventually, he was growing food on more than 100 acres of land outside the city and purchased the last remaining farm within the city limits to sell his produce in the middle of a food desert.
That presence in the city led to his work with a youth group that wanted to grow an organic garden. Allen helped the kids plan and grow their garden and let them use space on his inner-city farm. It was the summer of 1995 – hot and dry, and the groundhogs kept raiding the plot.
“Every time I thought ‘These kids are going to quit,’ they’d show up in their vans. They wound up growing some really nice crops,” he said. A reporter from the local paper featured Allen and the youth group on the front page, and he began speaking to more and more groups around town, volunteering his time and expertise. Friends talked him into starting Growing Power.
“There is a lot of life-skill-building that happens when kids do a project like this, when they really have to take care of something and nurture something. That struck a chord with people,” Allen said.
Today, Growing Power allows Allen to innovate in the agricultural field, experimenting with composting, vermicomposting and aquaponics. His life’s goal is to broaden access to healthy food.
“I’m proud to say that I’m making a contribution to change people’s lives, especially young people, around the thing that is most important to us: Our food,” Allen said. “I am proud to be able to impact lives and hopefully save lives by influencing people around the world to eat healthier food and be able to grow food in a sustainable way.”
# # #