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Good Foods Co-op
Many community gardening supporters give credit to Jim Embry, who arrived on the scene ready to build raised beds and hoop houses and came armed with a broader vision of a community garden than just a place to grow food.
Embry, raised in Richmond, lived in Detroit during the 1990s, when he worked as a community activist, using community gardening and urban farming as a tool to reach young people. "A community garden can bring people together. It can help young people develop leadership skills, build community and connect to their elders," he said. "It's where we connect to nature, and to the Earth from which we all come." Not that he overlooked the value of healthy food. "We felt one thing killing African-Americans was what we ate," he said. In Detroit, Embry was director of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership and was a founder of Detroit Summer, set up to "invigorate youth activism and community building," he said. Embry helped organized the first Food Summit in Lexington in 2007, met with then-Fayette County Schools superintendent Stu Silberman to share his Detroit experience and encourage school gardens, and approached the city about community gardens in city parks. "Jim was at the forefront of the community gardening movement in Lexington. Ryan Koch, founder and director of Seedleaf, said Embry motivated and inspired him. Embry met Judge Lucinda Masterton, a family court judge, in 2008, and this resulted in a drug-court garden for youth and adults. Embry also formed relationships with several nonprofit service agencies, including Chrysalis House, The Ridge, Women's Hope Center, the Hope Center and the Family Care Center, that resulted in gardens. He wrote a manual on how to organize a community garden, with advice on what to plant, local sources for bedding plants and seeds, how to compost and how to create a rain barrel. He went to the first Terra Madre - Slow Food International conference in Torino, Italy, in November 2008 as a United States delegate, and again in 2010, 2012 and 2014. In 2010, Embry was a finalist for the National Garden Crusader of the year. As a finalist, he was given a $1,000 gift card, which he spent on the Chrysalis House garden. "Jim's been effective because he's so passionate about what he does," said Bruce Mundy, a longtime friend and former counselor at the Blue Grass Aspendale Teen Center. Embry went to UK as a pre-med major, with plans to go to medical school. "What was going on in medicine was too focused on drugs and surgery. I thought the focus needed to be more on prevention and health," he said. "We don't really have a health care system; we have a disease-care system." He took graduate courses in nutrition, began to teach yoga and was a founding member of Good Foods Co-Op. Embry was director of community education for what was then the Lexington Technical Institute. Later, he formed a computer-repair service and a home-remodeling business before heading to Detroit. In 2008, Embry met Nicole Kelley, director of the expressive and wellness program at Employment Solutions on Whipple Court, an organization with a day program and employment opportunities for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Embry helped Kelley build a single hoop house in the parking lot behind Employment Solutions. Today, Embry, 67, lives on the 30-acre family farm in Richmond that dates to the 1890s. He makes about 25 presentations a year to universities, community colleges, civic and church groups.
United Way; James Embry, board president, Boggs Center for
Jim Embry - profile pic
Recently I had the good fortune to interview a man that I originally met many years ago, when I had no comprehension of the world around me and how my actions made an impact. The age at which I met Jim Embry was about the same age he was when he sat on his first picket line during the civil rights movement. I was 10 and playing soccer and the only thing that I knew about him was that he was the coach for the best team in the Youth Soccer League in Lexington, KY. That was over 20 years ago. Little did I know then that the man that coached the Jaguars was not only a great soccer coach, but an absolutely amazing human being. I found out just how extraordinary Jim Embry was when I sat down and talked with him the other day. We talked for more than an hour, and I took 6 pages of notes. Below are excerpts from the conversation. Jim is a man of action, plain and simple. He is involved in many different organizations including; Sustainable Communities Network, Youth Green Corps, The Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, The Northeast Lexington Initiative, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, Bluegrass Partnership for a Green Community, Earth Spirit Rising, Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group, Central KY Council for Peace and Justice, Growing Food and Justice, American Community Gardening Association, Slow Food USA and the list goes on. When I asked Jim why he feels so compelled to action he gave me a simple quote "The energies of activism become as much a part of your DNA as your physical DNA. He said he wakes up every day excited about the opportunity to create change in his community, and does not look at his endeavors as something he has to get done, but rather something that he gets to participate in. Jim draws his inspiration from his parents and grandparents and sees his actions as a way of honoring his family's efforts in the movements of the past. Jim grew up in the civil rights movement, his mother was the President of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality), and started his more than 50 years of activism at the age of 10, when he sat on his first picket line. His parents felt that it was extremely important to involve the youth of the times, and they "…made sure their children were on the front lines," a sentiment that he carries with him still today. According to Jim, working with the youth is a "no brainer. The idea of sustainability goes beyond the environmental aspect and involves a social aspect, and "…we can't be sustainable unless we involve young people." Jim focuses on the idea of an "internal transformation" that will help guide society toward a more sustainable future, and we need to start that process young, from birth, not when we are 18, 25, or 40 years old. Working with all children regardless of their background, Jim is involved in mentoring over 180 kids that are a part of the Hugh O'Brien Youth Leadership program (HOBY.org). There are also the kids from the alternative school, ML King Academy and from the youth Drug Court that he works with stating "No matter the background or upbringing we can teach and guide these young people to become the leaders of tomorrow." Jim moved to Detroit in 2000 to serve as the first Director of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership which served as a way to link the small groups in the local community and those around the country into one community that allowed for the sharing of ideas and information, allowing each to feed and grow from the theory and practice of the others. As Boggs Center Director Jim helped organize Detroit Summer, Summer Youth Leadership Institute, Artists and Children Create Community Together, YES! Magazine's State of the Possible Retreats and so many other community building programs. His efforts also included being part of the founding of Sustainable Detroit which works to inspire sustainable thinking and living. When he moved back to Lexington, KY in 2005 Jim founded Sustainable Communities Network (SustainLex.org) as a continuation of his work in Detroit and immediately began to tap into the broader community. Among the activities that SustainLex.org has developed are community gardens all over Lexington. Jim says his model of urban agriculture is Will Allen's "Growing Power" program in Milwaukee and Chicago whom Jim met while living in Detroit in the early 2000's. Jim says his model of urban agriculture is Will Allen's "Growing Power" program in Milwaukee and Chicago whom Jim met while living in Detroit in the early 2000's. Jim says he has encountered obstacles at every turn. I asked Jim about our home town of Lexington and the fact that there are more and more horse farms being chopped up to make room for new housing developments and whether there was an ideology that growth is more important than the farms. His feeling is that there is a prevailing cultural pathos that goes back to Manifest Destiny that says that "if we are not growing we are not fulfilling our destiny. This attitude of suburban sprawl is not unique to Lexington, but due to the amount of farmland in the area that has been repurposed it is extremely evident. Jim told me about his trips to Italy for Terra Madre, and Cuba where the cities are much more dense, and local people actually produce the food that is needed "in" the city, stating that the majority of the food in the markets was not brought in from the outlying farmland, but grown in small "community" style gardens. "These are the models we need to follow for the future sustainability in our urban settings." As we ended our conversation I asked what I thought was a true "interview" question, regarding the accomplishment he was most proud of. This was the dumbest question I asked Jim, and based on our conversation I should have known better. The long and short of it is that there is no "best" or "most important. There was only the work that he has done, and that work is just a small piece of the larger mission. Jim feels that Newtonian/Industrial Age thinking is archaic and is a believer in Quantum Thinking, that all things are intertwined and interrelated, so asking Jim his proudest accomplishment is kind of like asking someone to pick the most important link in a chain. It truly was a pleasure to talk with Jim. After our conversation I was not only inspired to continue working toward a better world, but also grateful that there are people like him that are working so diligently to make sure that we all have a better world to pass down to our children. Jim Embry truly is the embodiment of the ideal that we must "Think Globally and Act Locally."
Jim Embry of the Boggs Center speaks with a student following the forum.
Jim Embry of the Boggs Center called for active involvement by community residents, such as the soil testing his organization has done at the Bunche Elementary School playground, and the introduction of plant life which can extract heavy metals from the soil.