Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Insider: Robin Emmons, Sowing Goodness While Gardening for Life

Robin Emmons presenting at a TEDxTalk

An interview with the founder of Sow Much Good in Charlotte, NC

By Valaida Fullwood

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond. That slice of a Gwendolyn Brooks poem comes to mind when I think of Robin Emmons. Emmons and I first met earlier this year when we both presented at TEDxCharlotte. In her TEDx Talk, she weaves a fascinating account of her quick exit from corporate America, efforts to ease her brother’s struggle for mental health and her unexpected foray into farming full time. The founder of Sow Much Good is doing good and doing well and has been nominated for the prestigious 2013 CNN Heroes: Everyday People Changing The World.

In this Insider interview, Emmons shares what drives her to bring garden-fresh foods to underserved neighborhoods in Charlotte. Her organization, Sow Much Good, is committed to growing healthy communities by providing direct access to fresh, affordable food, educating and engaging residents to adopt healthy eating habits, and advocating for the right of every person to have real food security.

Hometown: Boston, MA

Education: BA, Political Science with a minor in Cultural Anthropology

Previous Positions: Personal Banker at Bank of America; Treasury Assistant at Goodrich Corporation (now United Technologies)

How do you describe your nonprofit, Sow Much Good?

I describe Sow Much Good (SMG) as a socially entrepreneurial endeavor that is structured under a tax-exempt code allowed by the IRS.  I am not a non-profit Executive Director.  I am a Social Entrepreneur operating within the parameters of a non-profit entity.

What led you to this cause and why were you inspired to found an organization?

I was led to this cause by my understanding that food is a shared and fundamental need that none of us can live without. Therefore, it is a basic human right that many people living in low-income communities were and are systematically being denied. I find this shameful and painfully embarrassing anywhere, but particularly in a country that has long held itself as the land of plenty. That said, I chose to address the need at the most basic level. Clean, healthy, life-giving food is something everyone deserves, so I grow it and provide it to communities in need.

Tell me what still surprises you about your work?

I am consistently surprised, each season at the miraculous simplicity of our human ability to nurture and beckon the earth to bring forth her bounty to sustain us at the most fundamental levels. And, despite our collective and consistent abuse, she continues to yield abundantly to meet our need.

What remains a challenge for you?

Capacity. That is, the time and resources required to measurably address the need in the community while also consistently doing the necessary work to eliminate intentional policies and practices engendered in long-standing systems that foster conditions for these and many other disparities and social injustices.

Now, here are some questions in observance of our extended Black Philanthropy Month 2013 campaign. Please fill in the blank: Black philanthropy is . . .

Black philanthropy is strategic investment of our collective human and capital resources for the purpose of transforming communities, reforming, and where necessary dismantling systems that are inherently unjust with a goal of creating a more equitable and inclusive social construct for all.

When it comes to society or our community, what is your “dream” or aspiration?

That marginalized communities that suffer disparities will be transformed into well-served communities with the ability to enjoy the full scope of public and social accommodations and amenities currently enjoyed by the mainstream.

Name a book that has shaped your philanthropy.

Several books have informed and shaped my philanthropy as well as my activism. Most notably are The Souls of Black Folk by W.E.B. Du Bois (1903) and Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde (1984).

Read more about Emmons’ newest developments at Sow Much Good.

Contributed by Valaida Fullwood

Described an “idea whisperer,” Valaida brings unbridled imagination and a gift for harnessing wild ideas to her work as a writer and project strategist. She is a founding member of Charlotte’s New Generation of African American Philanthropists and author of “Giving Back: A Tribute to Generations of African American Philanthropists.” For more, follow, @ValaidaF and @BlkGivesBackCLT.

Photo credit: Deborah Triplett


Cynthia Staples said...

Great interview. I look forward to learning more about Ms. Emmons and her organization.

Ann said...

I live in the area and having fresh grown veggies so close has been great. Usually I have to pick up things if I happen to run across a truck selling in the area. Robin and her group is a real asset in the neighborhood.

Thanks Robin for working the vision..