A Believer in Vacant Lots Urban Farming’s Grande Dame: Karen Washington

KW-300x200Karen Washington, a community activist who has been called “urban farming’s de facto godmother,” found her bliss when she moved to the Bronx nearly 30 years ago and began growing vegetables in her backyard. Gardening was not part of her heritage.

“My parents and grandparents were not farmers,” said Ms. Washington, who recently retired after 37 years from her day job as a physical therapist. “I took out books from the library and learned what to do.”

Savoring the memory of her initial harvest, which included eggplant, peppers and collard greens, she said it was the tomatoes that were life-changing. “When I bit into the first tomato I ever grew, it turned me around,” she said. “I thought, ‘This is what a tomato is supposed to taste like.’ I was hooked.”

As she walked under her grape arbor and past the strawberry plants, she pointed to the bee hive in the rear of her long, narrow yard. “You know, I got the bees for pollination,” said Ms. Washington, who has blond dreadlocks and a perennial smile. “I need to provide them with a home. If I don’t get honey, I couldn’t care less, but I got 24 quarts this spring.”

“Let me give you some candy,” she continued as she handed a visitor a just-picked yellow cherry tomato. “Candy, right?”

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