Will Allen

By: Alix Lambert
February 8, 2014


When WILL ALLEN (born 1949) was a child, his parents left South Carolina, where they’d been sharecroppers, and bought a vegetable farm in Rockville, Md. After a brief 1970s career as a professional basketball player, Allen moved to Milwaukee, where he spent 15 years in marketing; in 1993, however, he decided to put his energy and resources into urban farming. “I started to see a role I could play in the community,” he has recounted. “I saw my farm stand’s presence as an opportunity to fill an unmet demand. I wanted to help Wisconsin farmers reconnect with African American communities. Soon after my stand opened, I started something called the Rainbow Farmers Cooperative with a few farmer friends. African American farmers in the South have long established cooperatives as a way to support each other.” Allen is now the director of Growing Power, which runs the last functional farm within the Milwaukee city limits, and which teaches aquaculture, aquaponics, vermiculture, horticulture, composting, soil reclamation, and beekeeping. Sharecroppers, during the Reconstruction era, were exploited; Allen’s organization is about sharing crops. His work has earned him a Macarthur Genius Award among other accolades. Most, importantly it has brought communities together, taught skills, encouraged an understanding of healthy and sustainable foods, and transformed the exploitation of the past into the hope of the future.

MORE ACTIVISTS: Mother Jones | Alexander Berkman | Eugene V. Debs | Tina Modotti | Big Bill Haywood | Lucy Stone | Antônio Conselheiro | Emmeline Pankhurst | Félix Fénéon | Meridel Le Sueur | Pierre-Joseph Proudhon | Zo d’Axa | Mikhail Bakunin | Voltairine de Cleyre | Emma Goldman | Will Allen | Rosa Luxemburg | Simone de Beauvoir | Émile Henry | Pancho Villa | Joe Hill | Margaret Sanger | Aldo Leopold | Screaming Lord Sutch | Nestor Makhno | Dorothy Day | Garry Kasparov | Adriano Olivetti | Mildred Harnack | Frederick Douglass | Murray Bookchin | George Orwell | Bayard Rustin | Abbie Hoffman | Ti-Grace Atkinson | Gloria Steinem | Rudolf Rocker | Stokely Carmichael | Angela Davis


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Elizabeth Bishop.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).


Activism, HiLo Heroes