How is food production linked to climate change? Karen Washington knows how to work the soil in ways that fortify rather than deplete Mother Earth.
Editor's Note: Right now, individuals around the world are taking decisive action to address climate change. Through a collaboration with Climate Changers, Outrider is sharing examples of people stepping forward to make a difference. Their inspiring stories can ignite more of us to take meaningful action. Karen Washington’s roots run deep in the world of food justice and how it is a growing concern in the face of climate change. Her story is a garden of wisdom and compassion in action. Outrider invites you to get to know these Climate Changers and see how you can be part of the solution, too.
I am both an urban and a 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 to grow food and justice in our respective 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 a consumer there is power in your action.
Back in the day, growing food was looked as someone’s hobby or for people with backyards. You are now seeing people—especially in disenfranchised neighborhoods—taking back land to grow their own food. Remembering back to 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.
You may wonder if 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 stormwater 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 by using the principles from our ancestors in growing food with less impact and harm to 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 plants 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 to take the time to know where your food comes from, ask questions, and visit a farm or a community garden.