Robert Jeffrey, originally from New Orleans, is a pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Seattle’s Central district. His interest in food started in 2001 when diverticulitis put him in intensive care for 4 weeks. He discovered that his illness was caused by a lack of fiber in his diet and realized that a bad diet can kill people, especially low-income people that have inferior access to healthy foods. In response, Jeffrey formed the Clean Greens Farm and Market, a nonprofit that leases a 22 acre farm in Duvall, Washington, and sells its produce in weekly CSA shares that sponsor free food baskets to low-income Central residents. Residents of the district maintain the farm and a volunteer staff helps with farm production.
Clean Greens runs a farmers market stand in the Central District and donates half of its harvests to local food banks. Jeffrey sees good food as a means to escape poverty. He says:
Good food should not be the domain of the elite and fast food the sustenance of the poor. Food justice will create other forms of justice…I believe that food is the way to bring people into environmental understanding. You’re not only going to learn about food, but you’re going to learn who puts growth hormones in food and why, and what the chemical companies do to other things. It brings up the conversation, and you begin most conversations around the table: around the dinner table, around food. That’s the way to begin to bring excluded people into the conversation as well as to help them begin to grow their own basis of self-sufficiency.
Jeffrey believes food has become a liability in African-American communities- causing high blood pressure, cholesterol, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes. He sees the distribution of food as an environmental justice issue, because people eat what is available to them. However, Rev. Jeffrey sees partnerships between community-owned agricultural land and stores as a solution. Community-owned establishments circulate money back into communities, giving residents more incentive to support them. He sees this self-sufficiency as the key to making fresh food projects more successful in inner-city areas and sees community food control as the beginning step toward economic self-determination.
Jeffrey says that once he started farming he thought to himself How did I live this long without ever participating in the earth? “That’s part of the loss of city living. Once I discovered the earth, I discovered new possibilities.” He sees modern urban communities as being disconnected from the earth and the value of life and living in a synthetic existence where things are disposable. In response, he has created a Clean Greens agricultural training center to teach Seattle youth about food and give them a new sense of connection with the land. He is also opening the Clean Green Cafe, which will teach teenagers how to heathily prepare the food they harvest. He hopes Seattle schools will take a larger role in advocating for healthy, local food sources, as he believe they are instrumental in sustaining the community based agriculture movement.
Jeffrey plans on further benefiting the Central district by using profits from the Clean Greens Farm and Market to create a community endowment fund for small loans to new businesses. As for his church, he plans on helping it continue its role of empowering the community, fertilizing it with ideas and bringing about the blessing of god for people in need. Robert Jeffrey reminds us that “‘we are the change we are looking for'” and encourages us to all find ways to give back to our neighborhoods and keep our money local.
- Read an excellent interview with Jeffrey in YES! Magazine: “Lentils and Justice for All“
- Visit the Clean Green Farm website!
- Hear a radio podcast “Clean Greens: Helping One Community Organically Help Themselves“