What began with community gardens has grown into a movement. Urban farming has a positive impact in neighborhoods with limited access to produce, and it is on the rise in cities across the United States. Urban farming creates jobs, beautifies blocks, provides access to healthy food and connects the community. Here are seven (of many) African Americans taking the lead in the field of urban agriculture.
Favorite thing to grow? For Karen Washington, it’s collard greens: “Collards are traditional in the African-American household and cuisine. It’s about family, culture and storytelling,” she told The Root. Washington began her journey in urban farming in 1985 in her backyard, and her passion has since transitioned into a full-time career. She says that farming is important because the gardener controls what is planted, how it is harvested and what is done with it once it is fully grown. “There is power in growing food; it is spiritual and transformative,” Washington said. “Stick your hands in the soil and feel life.”
2. Will Allen
Founder and CEO of Growing Power Inc.
Will Allen, whose father was a sharecropper, grew up on a small farm in Maryland but did not take up farming as a profession until retiring from basketball at the age of 28. While living in Belgium, Allen observed intensive farming methods used on small plots of land. After returning to the United States, he began applying those methods to a small, vacant garden center in Milwaukee. It was there that he was inspired to teach farming methods to inner-city youths after they began asking him for gardening advice. “Start growing food. Even if you live in an apartment—if you’ve got a balcony, grow a pot of salad mix,” he said. “If you’ve got a backyard, grow something. Or go to a farmers market and engage with the local farmers. Shop on the exterior of the grocery store and look for the local sections.”
To Gail Myers, urban farming and food-distribution outlets in urban communities are ways to bridge the cultures of old and new. “It’s an opportunity for the black community to see themselves in food, to identify with it,” she told us. “It is a way to reclaim our community’s agricultural legacy.” Starting an urban garden does not take much. Myers said, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for—just start it on your balcony or in your backyard, and then bring people around your food.”