In 1972, he founded the Good Foods Co-op in Lexington. Then, in 2001, at a pivotal point of his life, Embry moved to the heart of Detroit, assuming the role of director at the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership, where he began integrating his work for social justice into the effort to bring nutritious food to underserved communities.
This move marked the culmination of 30 years of political collaboration with luminaries Jimmy and Grace Lee Boggs. Embry’s focus on urban agriculture and food justice in Detroit drew a global audience, where he hosted audiences include the British Parliament, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, and distinguished personalities such as Danny Glover, David Korten, and Joanna Macy.
“I have developed a worldview that enlarged my concern for all the human and non-human people: the plant people, the animal people, the water people, the air people, the rock people, the fire people. These are all our relatives, and we are all children of the Earth.”
Embry returned to his home state of Kentucky in 2006, and founded the Sustainable Communities Network (SCN), a nonprofit that connects and supports a variety of entities in a larger effort to build justice in the local food system. SCN works with nonprofits and schools in the region to integrate farming and food production into their work and advocates for local policy that supports school gardens, urban farms, and community gardens and helps get fresh produce to food insecure residents. He is also part of the Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance, a Black- and Indigenous-led organization with a focus on African and African American crops.
Since then, he has traveled and spoken extensively, including trips to the World Social Forum in Brazil and to Terra Madre, the International Slow Food Gathering in Italy. Embry now lives alongside his cousin in Richmond, Kentucky, on the 30-acre Ballew Farm, named after his great uncle Atrus, who died at age 100. In June 2023, Embry received a James Beard Leadership Award that recognized his many years of leadership within the justice food and food sovereignty movements.
Embry strives to balance community activism and writing with “soil activism,” embodying the essence of a life dedicated to weaving harmony between humanity and the natural world. His ethos extends beyond human boundaries; he sees himself as “stardust condensed in human form, collaborating with kindred spirits to foster beloved communities where every being, from human to water, air, rock, animal, and plant, is held in sacred regard.”
Civil Eats recently sat down with Embry to talk about his farm, his family’s agrarian history, and how he approaches his current role as an elder in the food system.
Drawing from your experiences as an activist, farmer, and social justice leader, how have historical events influenced and shaped your passion for the social justice movement?
I’ve been a participant in all the social justice movements for the past 65 years. In 1959, when I was a 10-year-old, I was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). My mother was the local chapter president.
Those years of activism inspired me to develop a worldview that moves beyond 45, 90, and 180 degrees and approaches 360. My involvement in social justice movements encompasses all forms of oppression that humans are subject to. But I have also developed a worldview that enlarged my concern for all the human and non-human people: the plant people, the animal people, the water people, the air people, the rock people, the fire people. These are all our relatives, and we are all children of the Earth.
As a social justice activist and organizer, I have not only participated in historical events, but I have also helped to plan and organize historical events. One case in point is the 1964 March on Frankfort, Kentucky, led by Dr. King and Jackie Robinson. As a president of the state youth chapter for the NAACP, my role was to travel around Kentucky and organize other young folks to attend the march, which attracted 10,000 people. I have gone on in my life to help organize probably 30 or 40 large events, have helped found 30 to 40 organizations, and I have never felt like dropping out.
One very important historical moment that influenced my journey was attending Dr. King’s funeral in 1968. It was here that I met Ernie Greene, well known for his involvement in the Little Rock school integration effort. He invited me to spend the summer in New York City in 1968 working construction. It seemed like the whole world was in New York City. There were people there from all over the world, interacting together. It was there that I was exposed to questions around food justice, food apartheid, food access, and the racism within the food and agricultural system.
Can you share the driving force behind your commitment to activism and the social justice movement, particularly in the context of fostering a more socially and environmentally sustainable world?
I grew up with a closeness to the land because of my upbringing in Madison County, which sits at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, is fed by the Kentucky River watershed, and is nourished by soil heavy mineralized in limestone rock.
My grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins were all small farmers. So, my family culture was a culture of people connected to the land. I call us agrarian intellectual activists. Everything I do has been influenced by my family legacy as small farmers.
How does your family history inform your understanding of the challenges faced by today’s small-scale farmers?
My family’s history provides me an understanding that conditions during the years of enslavement, during the period after the Civil War, are all connected to what is happening today. The conditions that we faced after the Civil War were not resolved towards justice and are thus still prevalent.
There were 180,000 Black men and women who fought . . . [and] brought about the Union victory, defeated the Confederacy, and reunified the country. Most all of those Black soldiers were listed as farmers for their occupation. So, it was Black farmers who saved the union. This is the history and legacy of Black farmers.
Are you still actively involved in farming?
Powered by WPeMatico
Go to Source
Author: Mya Price