Will Allen, the founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc., has been named to the 2010 “Time 100: The World’s Most Influential People.” The list was released last week, and the magazine hit newsstands last Friday. The much-anticipated announcement identifies 25 individuals or small working groups who are most influencing the current course of world events in four categories: Leaders, Heroes, Artists and Thinkers.
Allen was named in the area of Heroes. Allen was identified for his powerful advocacy for food security and food justice for all. Through his work promoting urban agriculture, Allen has called attention to the widespread existence of “food deserts” in cities across America, where whole communities lack access to fresh, nutritious and affordable foods. The solutions Allen has proposed and argued for in the 18 years since his founding of Growing Power, a non-profit urban farm and training center in Milwaukee, include are turn to localized food systems and teaching communities where good food is unaffordable to grow it themselves.
“We have seen the results of our reliance on the industrialized, commoditized foodsystem we have built since the middle of the last century: A rapidly rising rate of obesity in generation after generation, leading to alarming rates of diabetes and heart disease, so that for the first time in America, despite all our advances in medicine, our life expectancy is falling,” Allen said. “Finally, we are learning that treating illness is much less effective than preventing illness by promoting health; and that good food is the best and most fundamental preventive medicine of all. “Polls now show that 86 percent of Americans want good food, real food; fresh, locally grown food that is safe and free of chemicals and genetic modifications. But there is simply not enough good food being grown for all those who want and need it. I am simply trying to help change that.”
Driving home the point that the Good Food Revolution, as Allen has declared it, is no longer a fad but a fact, Time also named author and food advocate Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma”) to its list, as well as others such as Valentin Abe, who has successfully introduced tilapia farming to a depleted lake in Haiti. Time magazine created its first 100 list in 1999, when it named the most influential people of the 20th Century. In 2004, the magazine started the annual list, stressing that the people it names are not necessarily the most public, popular or powerful, but often are the most innovative or inspirational and the most apt to effect change. Growing Power’s Allen had long been a force in the field of urban agriculture, but both he and the movement rose to considerable prominence in 2008 when he was named a John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation Fellow and a winner of one of the foundation’s prestigious “genius grants.” He is also a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, an organization of leaders and thinkers founded by Bill and Hillary Clinton to address global challenges including hunger and malnutrition. In February, First Lady Michelle Obama invited Allen to the White House to speak to the nation at the launch of her “Let’s Move!” initiative to reverse childhood obesity in America.
Within hours of the announcement that Will Allen had been named to the 2010 Time 100 World’s Most Influential People, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett made an executive decision: He would award Allen the Key to the City.
For Barrett, this was an occasion considerably more unusual than, say, the use of his veto power. It was the first time in his six years as mayor that he has awarded anyone the Key.
The honor, which dates back to the times of medieval walled cities, is now a symbolic gesture, but certainly not without meaning. The bestowal of the key suggests the recipient is worthy of the highest trust and respect due any citizen. The plaque announcing it reads: “The Key to the City of Milwaukee, presented to Will Allen of Growing Power Inc., in honor of the distinguished recognition of being named one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. Presented by Tom Barrett, Mayor of Milwaukee, April 30, 2010.”
Barrett was not alone in taking note of Time’s recognition of Allen’s global status. Congratulatory calls and emails came in from around the world, including messages from other members of the 2010 Time 100.
Michael Pollan, author of the bestselling “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and other books and essays advocating for reform of the nation’s food system, wrote, “In naming Will Allen as one of the most influential people in the world, Time has shone a bright light on a visionary American and a visionary plan for bringing the benefits of the food movement to the inner city where they are needed most.”
“It’s certainly great to be recognized for your work in your own time and your own place,” Allen said, “but it’s equally important to me that a half dozen other people, including Michael (Pollan), who are involved in one way or another with reforming and rebuilding our food systems, were also given this recognition. That tells me that the Good Food Revolution is entrenched and established beyond the grassroots.”
Allen also added, “When I heard that my friend Michael Pollan had also been named to the Time 100 as one of the most influential thinkers of our time, I was very pleased both for his sake and for the Good Food Revolution, which, thanks to people like him, has now conquered the mainstream of America and the world. But to give Michael full credit, he is not only a powerful thinker but also a vigorous doer.”