Women in Food: Kim Doughty on Leaving the Lab to Pursue Her Urban Farming Dream
January 21, 2016 | Abbie Stutzer
Kim Doughty is an urban farmer and member of the Arkansas GardenCorps. But she came to farming in a roundabout way.
While Doughty grew up in a family that valued gardening, she only became interested in the local food movement later in life after getting exposure to a farmers’ market that was located near her home.
Seedstock recently interviewed Doughty to learn more about what motivated her to join the local food movement, promote nutrition education to fight childhood obesity and pursue her urban farming dream.
Seedstock: How did you become interested in farming and the local food movement?
Kim Doughty: My parents, grandparents, and great-grandmother had gardens. I don’t think they were conscious about local produce — that’s just what they did. They ended up mainly eating local produce and meat (both of my grandparents had cattle), but just because that’s how it was!
I started getting interested in the local food movement about five years ago when I moved to a neighborhood in Little Rock, Ark. that was fortunate enough to have a thriving farmers’ market within walking distance of my house. I started going to the market every week and purchased as much of my food as I could from local farmers. I was struck by how friendly and welcoming everyone in the gardening community was and I liked how spending my money at the farmers’ market was putting it back into the local community.
Seedstock: Tell us about why you chose to follow the urban farming path?
KD: I didn’t choose this profession right away! I majored in biology at Arkansas Tech University and for about six years after college, I worked at the Arkansas Department of Health, Public Health Laboratory. I tested samples in the immunology, serology, immunohematology, and molecular biology labs. While I did enjoy the lab work, I wanted to be outside working in the dirt and sunshine.
Soon after I started visiting the farmers’ market in Little Rock, I decided to volunteer at a local urban farm called Little Rock Urban Farming. I wanted to learn more about organic urban agriculture. I was an apprentice at LRUF for about a year and continued volunteering whenever I had free time.
Seedstock: You work for the Arkansas GardenCorps – tell us about what drew you to this project?
KD: For those not familiar, Arkansas GardenCorps is an AmeriCorps program hosted by the Childhood Obesity Prevention Research Program at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute in Little Rock. The mission of GardenCorps is to promote the use of school and community gardens to provide nutrition education with the purpose of reducing childhood obesity and to increase environmental awareness and sustainable agriculture practices in Arkansas communities.
I first heard about GardenCorps through some friends I met in the gardening community. I am now an Arkansas GardenCorps service member at the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project, which is a community garden in Conway, Ark.
Seedstock: What has your work taught you?
KD: GardenCorps has taught me that there is something new to learn about gardening every day. I work with community members of all ages and backgrounds. We swap recipes and tips for growing and cooking veggies that are new to us.
My work has also taught me how easily gardens can be used as an educational tool. Even though schools around the nation are beginning to see the potential of having a garden on site, I think we still have a long way to go before this is the norm. School gardens can be used as outdoor classrooms and can provide the cafeteria with fresh produce for school lunches. I am proud to say that Conway just received a USDA Farm to School grant award. This will help the Conway School District design a local food-processing kitchen that will allow the district’s schools to serve nutritious local produce throughout the school year.
Seedstock: What type of work do you plan on doing in the future?
KD: I plan on continuing to garden and support local food in any way I can! It is my dream to have an urban farm and sell fruit, veggies, herbs, flowers, and eggs at a farmers’ market. One day, I would also love to open a restaurant that serves all locally produced food. Our meals would vary seasonally. The restaurant would also serve as a marketplace, community center, and classroom. This is not an original idea, as local food restaurants are becoming popular all over the U.S., but I think we need one in our town.
Seedstcck: Why is local food so important to you?
KD: Local food is something I feel so strongly about that it is hard to put it into words… Local food is important to me because of what it can do for the community. When you buy local, you are getting a quality product that is fresher and healthier because the farmer can pick and deliver it to you. It hasn’t been shipped across the country to get to your dinner table.
When you buy local, you support a local farmer who is a member of your community. More of your dollars go back into the farmer’s pocket and stay close to home. I also like the idea of supporting small, local farms whose values I agree with. Farmers’ markets and CSAs are making it easier for conscious citizens to purchase organic produce and humanely raised livestock and poultry products.
Seedstock: Are there any types of sustainable farming practices that you work best in Arkansas?
KD: The sustainable farming practices that work in Arkansas are the same ones that work everywhere. Arkansas is a big industrial agriculture state, but large monoculture style farms will only work for so long before the soil becomes too depleted. We need to begin to focus on smaller-scale, diversified permaculture farms.
Seedstock: How has your previous work informed what you do?
KD: My apprenticeship at Little Rock Urban Farming was a great learning opportunity. I learned a lot about small-scale organic gardening that I can apply to the Faulkner County Urban Farm Project where I serve. Also: my work in public health at the health department opened my eyes to the high rates of youth obesity and food insecurity in our state. I always keep that in mind when I am creating nutrition education programs.