The son of a sharecropper, Will Allen, author of the “Good Food Revolution,” grew up farming. He remembers when his family grew food and shared it with their relatives and friends at weekly potlucks. From a young age, Allen noticed that food always seemed to bring everyone together.
On Sept. 21, Allen visited Ohio State as part of the Buckeye Book Community’s annual author visit and spoke to students about both his book and ways for students to change the way they think about food.
“(Food) is the most important thing in your life,” Allen said.
Allen began crafting the organization Growing Power in 1993. It developed from an organization that provided teenagers the opportunity to work into one committed to creating and teaching about sustainable food systems on both a national and global level, according to Growing Power’s website.
Allen said he supports the Real Food Challenge, an OSU student organization that is actively trying to include local vendors’ produce in campus dining halls, because they share a similar mission.
He said he considers the organization a perfect example of the next generation taking initiative and that he is optimistic the organization will help further Growing Power’s mission in the mid-Ohio area.
Allen said he also encourages students to plant a student garden or grow plants in their dorm rooms.
“One of the first things we did after we started Growing Power was get the youth involved,” he said. Now hundreds of inner city students visit and volunteer at the Growing Power headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, every week.
“I had no idea Real Food Challenge was even a group on campus,” said Alli Collins, a first-year in exploration, after listening to Allen talk. “(I am) very inspired to join the organization.”
Allen said he is also excited by this generation’s capabilities. He said he noticed that kids and young adults are more interested in participating in their communities and giving back than his generation was.
“You have a lot more power than you think you have, and you need to use that power in a positive way.”
Allen, who said he was determined to leave behind the family farming business when he was the age of many students, played collegiate and professional basketball and continued his career in Belgium.
But while exploring the countryside with teammates, Allen said he was drawn back to farming and food.
“As soon as I touched that soil … that was the transformative moment,” he said.
Initially Allen decided to work for Procter & Gamble and Kentucky Fried Chicken, where he said he remembered that he “got reconnected to the food system in a way that changed (his) life.”
Allen said the transition from leaving behind his corporate job to working at Growing Power wasn’t easy and he was faced with a lot of problems early on, but he persisted because of his passion.
“That’s what kept me going,” he said.
Going forward, his advice to youth everywhere is to “find something you can become passionate about, and find it early.”
“The food system is a puzzle,” said Allen, who said he believes people must patiently piece together a viable solution that helps to “grow people, grow food and grow communities.”
Decades after leaving his steady job, Allen said he is still running into problems.
“We need to train farmers and train food producers,” said Allen, who worries that there aren’t enough young farmers to replace the old ones. “Get everyone involved. This has to be a multicultural effort to make it work. We need to have everybody at the table.”