I would like to introduce you to Katherine Kennedy. She is an Atlanta-based farmer committed to building community, helping children, teaching sustainable food consumption, and feeding those in need. I sat down with Katherine, because something my father told me. He said that America was built by the farmer work ethic. Farming teaches you everything you need to know about life: character, work ethic, community, perseverance, equality, connection, life, death, sustainability, health, creation, math, science, beauty, and art just to name a few. I hope this interview about Katherine’s work helping the homeless and special needs children through farming demonstrates this, and inspires you to support her and other local and organic farmers.
Katherine got her start farming four years ago by working with under served youth in the projects in New York City. More recently, she returned to her southern roots and managed a farm in Douglasville, Georgia. Katherine currently works at the Lionheart School as their Gardens Manager and at the Concrete-Jungle, an initiative to forage urban fruit and vege’s for the homeless that otherwise would go wasted.
What drew you to farming?
My grandparents and their parents before them were farmers, as I think many of ours were — It is a natural urging that people have to grow and to create life. More practically, 4 years ago, I came into contact with NYC farmers, which gave me a picture of what was possible. I felt a natural urge to do the same.
Farming is really hard. What keeps you motivated in such a demanding and challenging career path?
On a day-to-day basis, it is literally keeping the plants alive. Seed equals life. You can’t let them die so you have to get to work. Also, I really believe farming is a good tool to empower people and organize community, which are two of my big career goals. Plus, it is tons of fun. Farm happy hours at the Doghead Farm (part of Concrete Jungle) are great times for people to connect and grow. If you are lucky, you will get to witness the infamous bicycle margarita maker.
Why do you think it is important for people to be connected to their food supply?
I think valuing the food you put in your body communicates that you value your body: the work it can do, the value it can create. If we can start with a small idea like that, that food creates value in us and we create value in the world, I believe that will help us to see unlimited potential in our society, in the world.
Your work at Lionheart, a school for autistic children and children with relating and communicating challenges, is really amazing. How do you feel farming helps children with autism and children in general for that matter?
It is really important for kids to be connected with physical things. Farming is a great tool for that. Planting, seeing the worms, picking things, etc. I started farming in the parking lot of one of America’s largest housing projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn. These kids on the Red Hook Farm had high energy levels and an earnest interest in knowledge, something that I did not observe in other students I worked with. Farming excites and empowers kids to work hard and make good decisions for their plants and for themselves.
My autistic students also benefit from farming, as the clear, organized layout of the farm is a very clear tool to help with spatial memory and motor skills. Once our students have established those skills, they can use the garden as a tool to learn basic math, biology, as well as interpersonal skills..
The garden also is very therapeutic: Lionheart students are very sensitive to stimulation, so to be in a peaceful place away from lots of people and with lots of open space to roam is very calming to them. And for some, the repetition of garden tasks is very regulating when their minds may be feeling a bit cluttered.
For all kids, it helps with work ethic. It helps them become autonomous at an early age and develop confidence and pride.
Do you think all kids should be exposed to farming?
Yes. Thankfully this is becoming more of a trend. One great organization is the Edible School Yard Project. It started in one school and has spread like wild fire. There are projects in literally every state.
What are some ways parents can get their kids involved in farming?
Parents can bring their kids to the www.concrete-jungle.org and help us farm or pick. It is a lot of fun and teaches kids a lot of great lessons about the abundance around us and helping those in need. Soul Shine after school or summer camp is another great opportunity. Lionheart also offers a summer camp for typical and special needs children.
What are the best ways for adults to get involved in organic / urban farming in Atlanta?
Go to farmers markets. Meet farmers and get to know them. There is no substitute for relationships. Get to know me (Katherine@concrete-jungle.org) and come help me farm. Volunteer to pick food for Concrete Jungle. Stick some plants in the ground in your yard—and REMEMBER to water them!
What are some CSA’s (Community Support Agriculture) in Atlanta that you would recommend to people reading this?
Tell us about Doghead Farm’s connection with the restaurant Empire State South?
Doghead Farm, part of Concrete Jungle, grows food for Empire State South and they help support Concrete Jungle. We are trying to grow only seeds that were bred or gained popularity in Georgia—its all part of the goal to preserve GA food culture. It is really great to have a local restaurant invest in us and care. You should all go eat there.
If you won 10 million dollars, what would you do with the money?
Buy a Prius. Buy a 1960’s Mercury. I would also buy a vintage motorcycle. I would travel lot’s of places on all my vehicles and give money to all of my friends’ not for profits.
If you weren’t a farmer and could magically choose any career, what would you be?
I would be the mayor of Atlanta.
I hope you are inspired to support local farmers, build abundance through community, and get your children involved with farming. Done correctly, farmers don’t just grow food, they grow better kids, families, and communities. This all adds up to a better country, and even a better world.
Let’s support Katherine! If you want to stay updated on the PGAL events, one of which is a volunteer event to Doghead Farm (happy hour) / Concrete Jungle, please like our Facebook page and sign up for our newsletter. Or, contact Concrete Jungle directly!
Pics of Concrete Jungle’s Doghead Farm: