Garden of Happiness, Karen Washington

Karen Washington The turning point was a tomato.

Single mom Karen Washington bought her house in the Bronx when the city was trying to woo the middle class back to NYC. Across the street was an empty lot that she helped turned into the Garden of Happiness. After she tasted a tomato off the vine, she had a revelation – THAT’s what food was supposed to taste like. No more processed or canned foods for her. Along with the city’s initiative Operation Green Thumb, which specifically focused on turning empty lots into gardens, and some other guy she randomly met her first day(can’t remember the name), they turned that empty lot into the Garden of Happiness, growing vegetables, raising chickens and nurturing bees for honey. But it’s a place that’s more than about the food. Apparently, people hang there, and it’s also a grassroots center, where they do voter drives, etc. You know, it feeds the community and then it feeds the community.

That tomato launched her into her life work of connecting the community to locally grown food. She became a self-educated farmer, forming partnerships with the New York Botanical Gardens among others, working upstate, typically the lone non-white face in her crowd in those projects, and now, she’s getting this big fancy food award along with Michael Pollan and some other fancy, white French guy. Wildly fascinating.

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