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William E. Allen

William E. Allen
William E. Allen

William E. Allen is the founder and president of the Rainbow Farmer's Cooperative, an organization that supports and trains small-scale farmers throughout the United States. As a young man, Allen was a professional basketball player for the American Basketball Association and European Professional League. He was also the first African American basketball player at the University of Miami, Florida. Today, as a farmer and community activist, he is dedicated to supporting low income and small family farmers and to bringing healthy, affordable food to urban areas.

Allen is known as an innovator and creator of food systems that are leading the efforts to get good food to people worldwide. He is referred to by many as a modern day George Washington Carver, the early 19th century scientist, botanist, educator and inventor known for his advocacy of sustainable agriculture. He is a person that Allen greatly admires.

As one of the few African American farmers in the Wisconsin, Allen has vigorously struggled to alleviate the plight of the small family farmer. He works a 100-acre farm in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and is responsible for organizing most of the farmer's markets in Milwaukee.

Allen is also the CEO of Growing Power, a national nonprofit organization based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which supports the development of community food systems. Growing Power's Community Food Center in Milwaukee, is considered a model for communities worldwide.

He has over 50 years experience in farming, marketing and distributing food and has shared his knowledge with youth, adults, community groups, immigrants, farmers and consumers. He believes that food is the cornerstone in building healthy communities, and that we have a responsibility to pass on our knowledge about food to youth in order to end juvenile obesity and to create future sustainable food systems.

Allen was honored in 2005 with the Ford Foundation's "Leadership for a Changing World Award" and today is a featured speaker on food systems worldwide. His ideas are being used in urban and rural agriculture projects around the world. He has also developed a system to grow food in the winter without a conventional heating system.

In 2008, Allen was awarded a $500,000 MacArthur fellowship (nicknamed the "Genius Award") for his efforts to promote sustainable farming methods in low-income neighborhoods. He is driven by a desire to make quality fresh fruit and vegetables accessible to underserved inner-city populations. He targets "food deserts," communities that rely on corner markets which load their shelves with junk food and liquor, rarely stocking quality produce.

Allen has been interviewed by Good Morning America, CNN, NPR, The New York Times and more. He oversees 14 greenhouses where greens, vegetables and herbs are cultivated year-round. He and his staff also raise chickens, turkeys, perch and tilapia. He has become an expert composter and turns food waste into fertilizer and methane gas. He maintains a 33,000 square-foot warehouse where 300 small-time farmers store their produce and prepare it for market. Allen has spread his urban farming message from Africa to Europe to South America.

The Wisconsin Historical Society celebrated the lifetime achievement of Mr. William E. Allen, along with three other individuals with Wisconsin ties, during the Fifth Annual History Makers Gala in Milwaukee in May 2010. Allen received The William Dempster Hoard Award for Distinction in Agriculture.

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