Stalks of plants in various colors, with a red and blue structrue in the background in a garden

Oral History: Karen Washington

Karen Washington Introduction

Karen Washington was born in 1954 on New York City’s Lower East Side, and growing up in the multicultural Jacob Riis Houses formed her world view. In the late 1960s, her family moved to Harlem where she experienced a new sense of pride living in a positive self-contained Black community. Karen’s food roots run deep: her father was his company’s first Black produce manager and later owned a farm stand; her mother, who inspired her to cook intuitively without recipes, worked in a school cafeteria. Karen’s journey in urban agriculture began in the 1980’s – while helping to turn an empty Bronx lot into a community garden, she met with NYBG Bronx Green Up staff and worked alongside them, cofounding the Garden of Happiness. Later she launched City Farms Market with other Bronx gardens, and as an activist, helped form the New York City Community Garden Coalition to stop Mayor Giuliani from auctioning gardens off to developers. For Karen, gardens are safe, beautiful spaces that bridge races, demographics, and wealth, and show how people can come together and feed their communities, making them stronger and more resilient. That’s why it’s so important that the history of how these gardens started is not erased. Today Karen serves on the NYBG board and is a co-owner at Rise & Root Farm in Chester, New York.

Interview Date: November, 8, 2021

Profession: Retired Physical Therapist, Gardener and Community Organizer

Birthplace: Lower East Side, New York City

Head shot of Karen Washington

Karen Washington

Full Length Video Part 1

Karen Washington

Full Length Video Part 2