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"I CHANGE and realize when Mother Nature needs help, she turns to the farmer, for it’s the farmer hands that soothes the soil and plants new life from a tiny seed.”

—Karen Washington, Founder of Rise & Root Farm, Co-founder of Black Urban Growers

I am both an urban and rural farmer. I have been gardening/farming in New York City for over 28 years. Recently I was able to follow my dream to farm on a large-scale upstate with my best friends. Yes, all of us came from New York City, growing food and justice in our prospective community gardens.

My community garden is the Garden of Happiness in the Bronx where I still live. Our three-acre farm in Chester, New York is called Rise and Root Farm. I commute from the Bronx and Chester during the week staying 4 days in Chester and 3 days in the Bronx. Many might think that it is insane, but I tell folks it’s less time —one hour to be exact—to go to the farm than it is to travel to Brooklyn. I love growing food. For me it is definitely a power dynamic. I grow my own food, I know where it comes from and the effort and care it took to grow it. My motto is that I grow food; I feed people, body and mind. I want people to understand how important their participation in the food system is. Be it a farmer or consumer there is power in your action.

Back in the day growing food was looked as someone’s hobby or people with backyards. You are now seeing people—especially in disenfranchised neighborhoods—taking back land to grow their own food. Remembering back in the late 1990’s fighting for the right to grow food on abandon lots in NYC, I still have battle scars, but as I have traveled across this country I am amazed and gratified that people want to grow their own food.

Food sovereignty, indigenous knowledge, stewardship for the earth; people understand that there is a connection to growing food to the environment, health, and economics.

You may wonder do people in cities understand or even know what climate change is all about? Sure we do. Many community gardens and urban farms are practicing composting and storm water mitigation. Understanding that what comes from the soil can go back into the soil as black gold for nutrients or as mulch to lessen the need for water. We are even collecting rainwater to water our plants preventing it from going into storm drains.

We are doing our part in using the principles from our ancestors in growing food with less impact and harm on the land. Growing without chemicals or pesticides. Using the weather, the elements dictated by the sun and moon to plant. Growing plants in season and ones that are native to our land and climate. And most importantly we are saving seeds!—the DNA of plant and human life.

Even on our farm in upstate New York, we are bringing our urban growing principles to rural Chester. We grow our food in raised beds and use drip irrigation. Taking back what we learned in our community gardens and bringing food justice with us.

Every living person should have the right to a healthy environment, healthy food, and clean water. As a climate changer, my challenge to you is take the time to know where your food comes from, ask questions, visit a farm or a community garden.

Follow my farm partners and me on Facebook or check out our website.

Peas and Collards,
Karen Washington