10 Female Urban Farmers Setting the Tone for Sustainable Cities
May 15, 2017 | Trish Popovitch
In cities across America, the female farmer is staking her claim. Whether she is an urban homesteader, farm manager, business founder, community garden leader or maker of a movement, the female city farmer is rising. Role models for what can be done, inspiration for what can be achieved and hope for what comes next, these female growers are planting seeds of change in the urban agriculture movement.
1. Erika Allen, Chicago, IL
National Director for famed urban farming juggernaut Growing Power, Erika Allen has a background in farming and an education in the arts. To date, Allen has established nine food system projects in Chicago. Allen helps growers plan their urban farms and growing projects and offers technical and marketing assistance to those who need it. Among her numerous awards and honors, Allen was named ‘Mother of the Environment’ for Minneapolis/St. Paul by the Women’s Environmental Institute and is a Post Carbon Institute Fellow.
2. Natasha Bowens, Frederick, MD
Activist, writer and farmer, Color of Food author Natasha Bowens is a force of nature in the urban farming movement. Educating and advocating for the black farming movement, Bowens through her writing and public speaking tackles issues like racism, oppression and class based perceptions of food sovereignty and the farming of a new America. Bowen hopes to dispel perceptions of urban farming and empower urban communities to embrace the slow food movement.
3. Kelly Carlisle, Oakland, CA
Former techie, Carlisle decided to initiate a nonprofit urban youth farming program when she discovered that her hometown was considered the fifth most dangerous city in the country. Since its founding in 2011, Acta Non Verba has helped hundreds of Oakland students learn about gardening, financial literacy and running a business through her spring and summer camps. Known for her urban youth advocacy, Navy veteran Carlisle was the keynote speaker at the first annual Black and Brown Farmers Convening, a part of the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference network.
4. Natalie Clark, Jacksonville, FL
Learning to live off the land since childhood, Retired army veteran and Master Gardener Natalie Clark is an urban farmer in an underserved community in Jacksonville. Inspired by Former First Lady Michelle Obama and having completed the revitalization of a 15 acre plot for the local homeless mission, Gardens of Hope, Clark decided to refocus her efforts on her own neighborhood and established Harvest Blessing Garden on her own two acre urban lot earlier this year. Decades of growing community and plants, Clark is a catalyst of change, teaching sustainable growing, self sufficiency and urban farming to her neighbors and larger community. Facilitator of farms stands, CSAs, community gardens and empowering the underserved, Clark’s farm will feature a retreat for female veterans as well as a children’s camp for local guides and scouts.
5. Gail Myers, Oakland, CA
Gail Myers, Ph. D. is a trailblazer in the world of sustainable agriculture organizing the first statewide conference for African American farmers in Ohio back in 2001. Myers’ decades of research helped formulate numerous papers on the relationship between black Americans and the land as well as her documentary project, Rhythms of the Land, recounting the journey of slaves from Africa to the new world and the complex relationships with farming this historical narrative has on today’s urban farmer. Myers is also the co-founder of Farms to Grow a nonprofit focused on supporting black farmers and underserved populations in growing sustainable farms and spreading awareness of the need for food equity.
6. Jamila Norman, Atlanta, GA
Jamila Norman is the owner and farmer of Patchwork City Farms in Atlanta. Norman’s original goal was to supply fresh food to the local school system. Skirting around the red tape, Norman runs an after school program to teach children about farming on the land she leases from the local school district. One of the few single black female owned farms in the state Norman acts as role model and community organizer, partnering with other local women to promote fresh food and urban farming through food related events including an urban food festival and online raw food education event.
7. Leah Penniman, Petersburg, NY
Former Fulbright scholar and current environmental science teacher, Leah Penniman is focused on raising the next generation of activist urban farmers. Farmer and social justice activist at Soul Fire Farm in Petersburg, Penniman focuses her time on educational programming and youth training while promoting food justice. Along with other activists, she uses training, workshops and immersion programs to educate and eradicate the systemic racism built into the modern food system.
8. Karen Washington, NY
Grandmother of the urban green space, Karen Washington began her New York based community activism back in the mid 1980s. Founder of Rise & Root Farm, Washington is a retired physical therapist and learned about growing vegetables on her Bronx city lot from reading library books. She later attended the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at UC Santa Cruz and co-founded Black Urban Growers (BUGS). Washington is a former NYC Botanical Garden board member, a current member of La Familia Verde Community Garden Coalition and a current Just Food board member and trainer. A permaculture powerhouse, farmers’ market founder and inspiration for young urban growers across the country, Washington is the very essence of the American city farm movement.
9. Yonnette Fleming, NY
From selling stocks to stocking seeds, Yonnette Fleming is a community activist and grower in Brooklyn. Fleming has been involved with community gardens since 2003 but it was in 2008 that she finally quit her day job and invested fully in the idea of revitalizing her neighborhood and growing community. Working with partners, volunteers and local families, Fleming transformed a vacant lot not only into a community garden but also a permanent farmers’ market space. Today, the Hattie Carthan Community Garden and Market is a thriving community hub. Using her gardening know how and her business savvy, Fleming continues to grow urban green space and market locations while educating people on food justice issues.
10. Lindsey Lunsford, AL
Community activist and agriculture advocate, Lindsey Lunsford, inspired by her alma mater, Tuskegee University, is setting the tone for the upcoming generation of urban agriculturalists. Lunsford heads the Tuskegee United Leadership and Innovation Program (TULIP). TULIP is a community garden project between local residents and the university to ensure public access to fresh food and growing space. As an employee of the Department of the Interior, Lunsford manages the VISTA programming in Tuskegee, a community stewardship volunteerism program. Lunsford’s leadership focuses on educating urban youth on self-sufficiency and healthy lifestyles while encouraging the larger community to pursue a sustainable local economy.