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Big Man With a Plan for Big City Farming

A retired pro basketball player's program for growing organic fruits and vegetables on reclaimed urban land reaches all the way to the White House.

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— Matthew Gilson

Allen believes there can be no better example than an organic garden at the White House will show the way to feeding a lot of people and creating jobs.

The Obamas, along with their White House chef, Cristeta Comerford, have been making this point in a myriad ways, and Allen is delighted. At Miriam’s Kitchen, a nonprofit drop-in center serving the homeless, Michelle Obama served fresh locally grown foods: mushroom risotto, steamed broccoli and apple carrot muffins. And in a speech at the USDA, last week, she emphasized how pleased she was that Agricultural Secretary Tom Vilsack had launched a People’s Garden Project to develop gardens at all USDA facilities here and around the world. “I’m a big fan of community gardens,” she said, “both for their beauty and for the fresh food they produce.” Allen’s goal for 2009 is to have Michelle and President Barack Obama come to Milwaukee to visit his farm, an idea that doesn’t seem terribly far-fetched.

Now 60, Allen says he hasn’t played basketball in quite awhile. There’s the reality of arthritis, and besides that, he says he can’t afford to get injured while working as a farmer. But looking at Will Allen, one sees a very tall, very fit man. Now that the Obamas have broken ground for the White House Garden Project, might there be reason for a celebratory game? “Well, that would be a reason to come out of basketball retirement,” Allen laughs. “That’s the one game I’d like to play.”

Marcia Rockwood is a writer and editor based in New York.

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