Jim Embry, 1010 Garden Crusader
Jim Embry believes that community gardening is the most important social movement in the country. "The climate is changing and that is because we are disconnected from the earth," he says. With a lifetime of experience as a social activist, Jim is now working to connect community gardeners to the earth — and to each other.
"In the garden, adults and even very young children, learn about patience and discovery and not to be afraid. Gardens teach citizenship and stewardship," he said. "For the last generation, the focus has been on computer literacy; now it's time for the focus to be on eco-literacy."
For his work to bring people together through community gardening and to integrate gardening with the quest for environmental stewardship and social justice, Jim Embry has been presented with a Garden Crusader Award from Gardener's Supply.
Jim got his start as an activist when he was just 10 years old, by attending civil rights demonstrations. His adult life has been devoted to social activism and he has become deeply involved in causes relating to environmental protections, natural foods, women's rights and much more.
"It is really all connected, but years ago, we didn't know how to make the connections," he said. "And over time I really began to see the importance of networks."
For many years, he ran his own business and raised six children. Though he always stayed involved, his family and his business took up much of his energy. That changed in 2000 when he moved to Detroit to run the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership. While in Detroit, he began working closely with urban farms and community gardens.
"I really got to see a green vision of how everything is interconnected," he said. "And it all comes down to sustainable communities. You can't have a sustainable community if the land is polluted or if women are marginalized. We can't discriminate. I see sustainability as all encompassing."
In 2005, Jim returned to his hometown of Lexington, KY. He thought he was going to lead a quiet life and be semi-retired. But just one month after moving back, he went to a meeting about building a more sustainable city.
"I felt compelled to say something and then I felt compelled to get a lot more involved," he said. Soon after, he founded the Sustainable Communities Network so he could work locally while also being connecting to other communities around the country and the world.
Jim has helped to expand community gardening in Lexington by holding community gardening workshops and tours. He has also organized local and regional conferences focused on food security. He founded a Youth Green Corps that has placed over 150 youth in community service projects. And he has given dozens of presentations to groups ranging from neighborhood associations to university classes.
Jim believes that gardening has the power to change the world, not just by improving people's health and environment, but by actually changing the way people think. "How we think has to be the same as how we act," he said.
At home, Jim has extensive gardens and grows a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, including okra, peppers, tomatoes and raspberries. But it's his blackberries that have made a mark in town. Three decades ago, when his six children were young, he planted blackberries at his former house.
"Those blackberry plants are still there, and I've shared the rootstock with people all over town," he said, proudly. Jim Embry is always making connections.
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