Food is not only sustenance; in this modern era of organic lifestyles, it has become a status symbol. We live in a time when food consumption divides people. In a country as prosperous as the United States, some still have to make do with eating instant meals because they are much cheaper than fruits and vegetables. Now that everything is mass-produced, organic foods come with exorbitant price tags akin to handcrafted goods when compared to mainstream products. Added to that is the media-generated “fad” about the need to eat organically-grown produce, thereby creating demand and, in turn, a steady rise in prices.
So, what can those with limited income do but feed themselves with the cheapest food available? This food often comes with additives that are foreign to our digestive system. Now, we are in a quandary about how to address diabetes, cancer, obesity and other all-too-common diseases brought on by careless diets.
Robin Emmons knows the value of good food. In fact, she is so particular about what she eats that she still maintains her own backyard garden. It may not be as grand as Martha Stewart’s, but she eats healthy and feeds her family with fresh picks.
Her brother, on the other hand, was homeless and suffering from a mental illness. This is why the issues of homelessness and poverty cut Robin to the core; she has seen a loved one become a victim. Without money to buy decent food, her brother had to make do with what people threw away. It broke her heart every time, but there was little she could do for a person who was convinced he needed no help…until he was detained. She happened to have recently quit her job, which afforded her the time to be with her brother throughout the ordeals of the investigation, medication, and rehabilitation.
Once taken to rehab, she saw that he was noticeably unwell, although he was not having as many outbursts. After asserting that he was becoming borderline-diabetic due to being fed processed food, she volunteered to bring fresh produce straight from her backyard garden to the facility. What was formerly small-scale gardening eventually received the attention of the local media; people began hearing about her story and advocacy, which was later given the name “Sow Much Good.”
To her delight, “sow much” support came in the forms of donations, volunteering and grants from people and institutions who shared her perspective on food. Those who work alongside her are always inspired by her enthusiasm; the good food they provide to the community, as well as very affordable pricing, is greatly appreciated by those who used to consume bad food due to lack of resources.
It’s easy to see how Robin Emmons, a backyard gardener who is now an organic farmer and social entrepreneur, ended up on the “CNN Heroes: Everyday People Changing the World” list.
Robin Emmons grew up in a predominantly-black community in Boston, Massachusetts. She remembers not having fresh produce sold in her neighbourhood; her parents endured long drives just to buy fruits and vegetables. She also has one older brother, and a younger sister, Kelly.
As far as she could remember, it was her mother who instilled within her the habit of eating good food. She recalls in an interview with Home Farmer:
“The primary and single most influential source in shaping my views on healthy eating was absolutely, my mother. Her informal teachings of the importance of eating well went beyond the standard motherly advice of eating your vegetables. She was a trailblazer and particularly in the African American community of which I am a member and where I lived during my childhood. Sure, most kids were getting a dose of daily cod liver oil as a preventative measure, but my mom was juicing fruits and vegetables and buying organic foods long before Whole Foods came to existence. When my younger sister, Kelley and I became aware and concerned about our teenage looks, my mom said, “Beautiful skin, hair, nails, teeth, bright eyes and a fit and healthy body were contingent upon the foods we eat”. Suffice it to say, thanks to her, we had no illusions around any purported miracle in a jar.
“She encouraged in us healthy eating not just in words but indeed and I never felt deprived. Now as an adult, I feel a deep sense of gratitude to her for the wisdom she imparted even during a time that marked the continued proliferation of the “Golden Arches” as I grew up. And, while we did occasionally consume meat, we always had the leanest cuts and also ate lots of beans not from a can, but rather, dried, bagged beans. I credit my mom with my understanding of the power of food to fuel and nourish our bodies and provide healthy outcomes relative to our physical, aesthetic and overall health and lifestyle goals.
“I think that the messages that she conveyed to me are timeless and also apply to this and future generations. I also believe that it is that simple messaging that will interrupt and reverse the public health crisis facing our nation relative to childhood obesity and onset adult lifestyle diseases among youth populations. There is tremendous opportunity to leverage the momentum of school and community gardens with this goal in mind. When children are involved in the production of food, they inadvertently learn how and what to eat and gain an appreciation of the process and the value of real food.
“Finally, as I consider the plethora of “low fat, no fat, low carb, gluten free, no carb, sugar free, reduced fat and every other diet out there and the vast array of fast and fringe foods, I am that much more grateful for the basic of understanding of “how” to eat, as I can imagine there is much confusion about proper meaning the four letter word – DIET. Thanks to my mom, I know that it is not a fad or the latest headline but rather a lifestyle fundamental to my and our way of life.” (SOURCE: Home Farmer)
Indeed, parents have a direct influence on their children’s eating habits. We learn from Robin how important a parent’s involvement is to their children’s diet.
FOUNDING “SOW MUCH GOOD”
Eventually, Robin joined corporate America and became a wife. She had a job at Bank of America after working for a number of other companies, spanning a total of 20 years. Her older brother had been homeless and living on the streets; it broke her heart and she panicked every time she heard news about a homeless person being found dead, fearing it could be her brother.
From Boston, she moved to North Carolina with her husband, Willie Emmons, in 1999. Willie did eight years of military service and has since become a state trooper. They live in a subdivision with a wide lawn that appeals strongly to the gardener within her. It amazes her how a seed can develop into something edible that can nurture the body and make it healthy.
As she drove to work one day, Robin started to think deeply about the purpose of her existence. She was no longer happy with what she was doing, and going to work became a drag. In her TEDxAsheville talk, she discussed how she composed her “a la Jerry Maguire resignation,” citing that her last day would be April 1st and that it was not an April Fool’s joke.
She came home to tell her bewildered husband and assure him that she had a plan. Because she did not have a plan, however, she stayed home gardening for the next two weeks until receiving a call about her brother being detained after a schizophrenic outburst. Out of work, Robin had all the time in the world to be with her brother, accompany him in his therapy and fight for his guardianship, which she eventually received.
When her brother finally settled in “Open Doors,” a mental facility, she was relieved and happy to see him gain his old self back. But, as he became healthier mentally, she noticed he did not look well physically. After running tests, the doctors determined that he was borderline-diabetic, with the culprit being the patients’ diets; they were being fed mostly with canned goods. To help her brother, Robin volunteered to donate produce from her garden.
As she brought fruits and vegetables to the facility each week, she realized there were much greater needs out there for decent food, especially in under-served communities. Her brother became proof of how eating fresh, organic food can help save a person’s life.
Upon realizing she had a lawn wide enough to grow food she can share, she called fifty friends and they planted in every square meter of her garden. The first harvest yielded enough to be shared with facilities all over her neighborhood. She earned media mileage quickly, and a generational farmer even volunteered to train her using tractors and other optimizing equipment. The farmer also allowed her to use his many acres of land to plant even more fruits and vegetables. Soon, she began receiving calls from organizations willing to provide volunteers and resources for her crusade.
That was how “Sow Much Good” came to be. From her backyard garden, it has grown into nine acres of farmland in three sites, with 200 volunteers who made possible an incredible, 26,000-pound harvest of fruits and vegetables. From giving out produce free of charge, they have become a systematic non-profit in that they now sell fresh picks (for affordable prices) at stalls. In addition, they have developed a site where they conduct training for those interested in farming and growing their own gardens. They also provide recipes to help consumers leverage the nutritional value of their purchases.
Thinking of growing your own garden? Here’s what Robin advises:
“…You don’t need an acre to get started. Nope. Just a love for good clean food and an appreciation for the perfection that is inherent in nature’s process and provision... For the population that we at Sow Much Good serve, it is not just a leisure activity, but also a necessity to health, food and economic security, which are issues that affect the vibrancy of our communities as a whole. So what are you waiting for? Get growing!” (SOURCE: Home Farmer)
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Sow Much Good
- Martin Marietta Materials
- McColl Center for Visual Art’s Innovation Institute
- William C. Friday Fellow for Human Relations
- Community Supported Agriculture
- Sunset Road Urban Farm
Awards and Achievements
- 2008: Founded “Sow Much Good”
- 2013: Included among the top ten nominated finalists for the prestigious “CNN Heroes Awards”
- Featured in People Magazine's "Heroes Among Us” section
- Won Sustain Charlotte’s food award
Sow Much Good (Robin Emmons – Founder & Executive Director)
So Much Good (Mission)
Sow Much Good (Urban Farm)
LinkedIn (Robin Emmons)
CNN (Creating an oasis in a Southern 'food desert')
Creative Loafing Charlotte (Sow Much Good's Robin Emmons nominated as a Top 10 CNN Hero)
Black Gives Back (The Insider: Robin Emmons, Sowing Goodness While Gardening for Life)
Mosaic Magazine (The constant gardener)
Home Farmer (Featured Interview: Robin Emmons of Sow Much Good)
The Herald Weekly (Sow Much Good’s Emmons named ‘Hero Next Door’)
People (Robin Emmons: Why I Quit My Bank Job to Feed North Carolina's Hungry)
TEDx Charlotte (LIVE: Robin Emmons)
UNCC.edu (Growing the market for local foods)
Chidsey Center Leadership 24/7 Blog (Leadership Lecture: Sowing the Seeds of Change)
The Charlotte Observer (Farm digs into helping westside neighborhoods)
Home Farmer (Farmer Spotlight: Robin Emmons)