Maglio Companies’ president Sam Maglio Jr. (left) and Will Allen, founder of the non-profit group Growing Power, joined forces this year to build 11 hoop houses for locally grown produce on a plot adjacent to the Maglio headquarters in Glendale, Wis. (Photo courtesy Maglio Companies)

Known for 113 years as a produce distributor, the company founded by Giacomo Maglio in 1902 ventured into the locally grown arena this year with the help of a former professional basketball player now known for his urban farming skills.

Sam Maglio Jr., president of the Maglio Companies and great grandson of the founder, has always been community minded, said Paul Schulz, director of sales and marketing for the Glendale, Wisc., company.

“Sam’s vision for the company is to be an active part of the community and offering locally grown produce fits well with that,” Schulz said. “He had to spend a lot of time getting the zoning approval for the hoop houses to make this happen, but he says it was worth it.”

Maglio enlisted the help of Will Allen, who was drafted by the NBA and the ABA in 1971. He played in the ABA for a season before switching to the European League where he played for Belgium. In Belgium Allen, the son of a Maryland sharecropper, rediscovered his agricultural roots and grew vegetables for fellow players.

After retiring from the game, Allen did a stint in corporate America, eventually working for Proctor & Gamble Co. He retired in 1993 and bought Growing Power, a non-profit group dedicated to helping teens find jobs. Allen combined sustainable urban agriculture with that mission and turned Growing Power into a nationwide movement.

“Sam says Will is a guru of urban farming. He had known Will for several years and knew he was the man to help with the hoop houses,” Schulz said.

The two men used a half-acre plot adjacent to the Maglio Companies headquarters for 11 hoop houses to for locally grown produce.

Maglio Companies’ president Sam Maglio Jr. (left) and Will Allen, founder of the non-profit group Growing Power, pause in the Maglio packing facility, Glendale, Wisc., to check tomatoes grown this summer in hoop houses adjacent to the company’s headquarters. (Photo courtesy Maglio Companies)

In August they harvested the first Maglio-grown local tomatoes, peppers, romaine and kale. Schulz said they should have tomatoes through the end of October and possibly into November, depending on Mother Nature. Fall squash is also available.

Maglio is selling his share of the produce to local retailers and helping Allen market his share to area restaurants, Scuhlz said. Response to the first harvest “has been awesome,” he said. “The flavor is outstanding.”

“We have talked to certain customers about how special these are, and will command a little higher price. It costs a little more to grow, and we’re not machine harvesting, it’s hand harvested,” Maglio recently told National Public Radio.

Maglio sells the produce from the hoop houses under its Hometown Harvest brand.