Will Allen had an extremely successful harvest last week: The Milwaukee-based urban farmer won a MacArthur “genius grant,” which brings with it a half million dollars and zero obligations. Allen’s organization Growing Power Inc. was running an urban farm in what he calls a “food desert” long before it was cool. But he’s always had a social mission too. “I am a farmer first, and I love to grow food for people,” he told the New York Times. “But it’s also about growing power. We grow relationships first; otherwise, nothing else makes sense.”

When I worked at Chicago’s Green City Market, I saw Allen almost every week at the Growing Power tent. Tall and muscular, still looking like the professional basketball player he once was, he’s hard to miss. He’s known as a sweet and gentle man, who’ll happily talk about worm composting until the sun goes down, and he’s an inspired choice.

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