Growing Food in Cities is More Important than Ever

Karen Washington of Rise & Root Farm on Urban Agriculture

As told to Corinne Segal

I’ve been shouting out to the rafters, “This is a new day.” The past is the past, and how do we move forward in such a way that we realize, hopefully we realize, exactly the inequality that we see in the food system, the economic inequality that we see, and how this has now reached so many people?

Food is a human right for all. You can negotiate the financial bind that you’re in, but you can’t negotiate hunger. So let’s think about how we’re gonna move forward.

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I heard stories growing up as a black person that the land and growing food was always meant as slavery, as a slave mentality, and it wasn’t until I put my hands in the soil that I started feeling that connection of growing food. For me, the land is sacred, it’s special, it’s part of who I am, it’s part of my DNA. … While I’m here, stuck here in the Bronx, I have not been idle. What we’re trying to do here in the Bronx is develop a food hub.

You can negotiate the financial bind that you’re in, but you can’t negotiate hunger.

The Bronx, along with Queens, is one of the hardest hit when it comes to this pandemic. Our people are hungry and our people are dying. What we’ve decided to do is—with the transplants that are coming and the seeds that we have—we are now growing food, [and] not only for our community. We have 12 community gardens that are signed up in the Bronx, we have a survey of the type of food we’re going to grow that we know is important to our community, and we’re gonna grow that food and we’re gonna give that food away. Don’t get me wrong, the food that’s given [from] the food pantries and soup kitchens, a lot of it is canned food, it’s nice but you know what I’m saying? It’s box food. Our community needs fresh fruits and vegetables and herbs.

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Now, everyone wants to grow food. We have over 400 community gardens in New York City. Right now, you can’t get in, only gardeners can get in, but hopefully after this pandemic lessens somewhat, it will allow some people to come into our gardens. People should think about growing food on their window sills. Turn up that lawn and start growing food in your backyard, your front yard, on your terrace. Start growing food. That’s number one.

Number two, think about supporting your local farmers at farmers markets. Go to farms, go online. As farmers, we need help. We need support from our consumers. And let me tell you something, consumers are stepping up to the plate. But this is not like a little short thing. We need people to understand the importance of food. I think for the first time, people are starting to understand the value and cost of food. At the end of the day, the most important thing is your body, and it’s food.

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WHAT COMES NEXT: LIFE BEYOND PANDEMIC

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Bill McKibben on what the coronavirus pandemic means for the climate crisis

Ari Berman on how to treat voting as a public health issue

Ai-jen Poo on creating policies that protect care workers

Casey Schwartz on relearning to pay attention

Madeline ffitch on what anarchism shows us about caring for each other

Elizabeth Catte on mutual aid as a form of resistance to power

Julian Noisecat on how progressive messaging can adapt to the pandemic

Andrew Keen on employing media and technology to protect truth

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Karen Washington
Karen Washington
Karen Washington is a co-owner and organic grower at Rise & Root Farm in Chester, New York. In 2010, she co-founded Black Urban Growers (BUGS), an organization supporting Black growers in both urban and rural settings. She is a board member of Why Hunger, a grassroots support organization, and Farm School NYC, which leads workshops on growing food and food justice across the country. She is also board president of Greenworker Cooperatives, which builds and sustains worker-owned green businesses to create a strong, local, and democratic economy rooted in racial and gender equity. Additionally, she is on the Board of Directors of Soul Fire Farm.





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