Karen created the “GARDEN OF HAPPINESS” on Prospect Avenue in the Bronx!
Gustavo Alzugaray visiting Karen Washington at Garden of Happiness, Prospect Avenue
Karen, an urban farmer and community activist of the Bronx was named Ebony magazine’s “Power 100” of influential African-Americans (A list including names such as Beyonce, Oprah and Toni Morrison)
You can learn more about Bronx Hero – Karen Washington at
and please read excerpt below from the New York Times
Excerpt from New York Times 9/19/14
Karen 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.”
Named in 2012 to Ebony magazine’s “Power 100” of influential African-Americans (a list including names such as Beyoncé, Oprah and Toni Morrison), Ms. Washington, 60, will receive a James Beard Foundation Leadership Award next month along with Michael Pollan, the author of “In Defense of Food,” and Mark Bittman, the columnist for The New York Times.
“I appreciate that the James Beard folks are recognizing a grass-roots person from the Bronx,” said Ms. Washington, adding that she was gratified that the other two of the five honorees were also members of minority groups: Ben Burkett, the president of the National Family Farm Coalition; and Navina Khanna, the field director of Live Real in California.
Ms. Washington moved from an apartment in Harlem to a brand-new brick rowhouse two blocks from the Bronx Zoo in 1985. “I’d read an article in The Times about how the city wanted to bring the middle class back to the five boroughs,” she recalled. “I put in an application and one day I got a letter inviting me to look at a model home on 180th Street.”
After she toured the model, she was told that if she wanted to buy one of the $50,000 houses she should come back the next day with a $500 deposit. “This was my big chance as a single mother with two children to own something,” said Ms. Washington, who returned with the money and was given a pin to put on a map to select the location she wanted. “Thank God I chose this spot because of the empty lot across the street.”
Initially, the lot on Prospect Avenue was an eyesore. “It was full of garbage, which I now know is environmental racism,” she said. “People look down at you if you live in a neighborhood with garbage.”
One day in 1988, she looked out her kitchen window and saw a man with a shovel and pick in the lot. It was Jose Lugo, a neighbor who said he wanted to create a garden; Ms. Washington offered to help, and they’ve been working together ever since.