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A Farm in the City Sprouts a 'Genius'

Will Allen, an urban farmer in Wisconsin, wins a $500,000 MacArthur fellowship for providing food and agricultural education. Transcript of radio broadcast

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

Farming means growing crops on a good-size piece of land in the country, right? Well, a farm can also produce food in small spaces in the city. Just ask Will Allen.

Will Allen is an urban farmer in the American Midwest. And last month he became one of the twenty-five winners of this year's MacArthur fellowships, commonly called genius grants. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation secretly chooses people to receive five hundred thousand dollars over five years. They can spend it any way they want.

Will Allen co-directs a nonprofit organization called Growing Power. He helped create the group in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in nineteen ninety-five. Growing Power has a series of greenhouses on about one hectare of land in the city.

The farm provides low-cost fresh fruits and vegetables, especially for poor people. People without much money often eat unhealthy diets that can lead to problems like heart disease and diabetes. Part of the problem is that poor communities often lack markets with fresh produce.

Will Allen also feels strongly that food that has to travel long distances from field to market costs too much.

During the last ten years, he has expanded the work of Growing Power. For example, his daughter Erika manages projects in Chicago, Illinois. One Chicago organization that they work with is the Farm-City Market Basket Program. This program sells weekly baskets of fresh produce. Members of a farming cooperative provide the food at reduced prices.

Teenagers and young adults work as aides at Growing Power. They can also study agricultural methods at workshops organized by the group. People who want to learn how to start city farms can get intensive training at these workshops in Milwaukee.

Will Allen is the son of a laborer who could not read. As a child, Will wanted to be a basketball player. He became the first African-American to play basketball for the University of Miami in Florida.

After graduating, he played professionally. He retired in nineteen seventy-seven. He and his wife, Cynthia, then moved to Wisconsin. Will Allen grew vegetables and sold them at local markets in the Milwaukee area for years. He purchased the farm that became Growing Power.

His dream now is to build a vertical farm, in a building five floors high.

And that's the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. Transcripts, MP3s and podcasts of our reports are at