by Nicole Pasia
Rev. Dr. Robert Jeffery, Sr. always enjoyed his meals, but never thought much about what he was eating. That changed in the early 2000s, when he was diagnosed with diverticulitis, an intestinal disease that affects food digestion.
“I was in the hospital for two years, on and off,” he said. “I was very fortunate that I survived it.”
After a long recovery, Jeffery sought to live a healthier lifestyle. He knew he had to make a change before others went through the same pain. Jeffery, a pastor at New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in the Central District, decided to put his vision to action. In 2007, he leased a sprawling 23-acre farm in Duvall to grow healthy produce for Seattle residents.
Jeffery’s vision of leading a healthier lifestyle led to the development of Clean Greens, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing locally grown, affordable produce to the Seattle community. Founded in 2007, Clean Greens not only provides healthy food to local residents, but by taking charge of their food system organizers are able to control and be informed about where their food comes from. Jeffery calls this “green business.”
“I thought a lot about the need to create economic empowerment through creating food systems,” he said. “Because I realized that if this could affect me, how many poor people out there are dying because of bad and processed food, who can’t have access to hospitalization or the medication?”
Clean Greens delivers produce to the community in three main ways: through local neighborhood farm stands, through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, and through its giveback program.
Currently, Jeffrey, Clean Greens Executive Director Lottie Cross, and their team are preparing to sell produce at three farm stands in the Central District this summer, including at Harborview Medical Center. Locals can also order boxes of assorted produce through a CSA, and the proceeds will support farmers and keep prices affordable for low-income families. Additionally, Clean Greens also works to provide free boxes of produce to select families in need, as well as donating to local churches and food banks.
“We grow the types of food that we like to cook with,” Cross said. “Kale, green beans, carrots, potatoes, you name it.”
Cross, who grew up on a farm in Louisiana, said that working in the agriculture business in Seattle was very different from the South, but provides unique opportunities for volunteers to learn from one another.
While Clean Greens has been serving the Seattle area since 2007, the organization is part of a larger movement: Black Dollar Days Task Force, which was founded by Jeffery in 1988 and is “committed to facilitating economic self-sufficiency for inner-city African Americans.”
“Food is going to be the basis for a green economy,” Jeffery said. “Most civilizations grew up around agriculture, so the discussion of how agriculture exists in a green economy is a crucial discussion. I think that what we’re doing here is providing information about that discussion.”
A major problem affecting Seattle locals is access to fresh produce. Seattle is a highly urban area and fresh produce must be brought in from farms and other resources. This problem is exacerbated in some low-income communities of color. These lower-income neighborhoods usually have access to only local convenience stores, which contain less healthy foods than supermarkets in higher-income neighborhoods, according to a new study by the University of Washington School of Public Health and Public Health – Seattle & King County, in Washington.
Less access to healthy foods and produce can make these communities more susceptible to health issues, such as in Jeffrey’s case. He, Cross, and a dedicated group of volunteers developed Clean Greens to bridge the gap between these underserved communities and the fresh produce that can help them lead a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, through businesses like Clean Greens, low-income communities will have the opportunity to generate economic growth through the business of agriculture.
Clean Greens aims to serve local Seattle residents, and especially its African-American community. More importantly, Clean Greens works to repair the uneasy relationship that many African-Americans have with agriculture, due to the painful history of slavery and exploitation imposed upon their ancestors.
“The relationship between African-Americans and agriculture is very strained,” Jeffery said. “Agriculture was used to oppress African-Americans. They were forced labor in terms of agriculture. And that’s still in our memory bank, of how devastating it was in terms of the slavery period and the sharecropping period that followed. We have a bitter remembrance of the role of agriculture in our economic growth.”
Although the history is hard to forget, Clean Greens began to repair the relationships between the African-American community and farming, Jeffery said. The group focuses on providing people with a means to a healthy lifestyle and a goal of a sustainable, green business model. Over the last 12 years, hundreds of volunteers of all races, have come together to help, according to Cross. Volunteers often trade recipes that include produce from Clean Greens.
With no paid staff, Clean Greens relies heavily on its volunteers. Local youth make up one its largest volunteer forces. Clean Greens is one of several organizations with which local teens are getting involved in the Seattle area. Volunteers often bring their children to help out at the farm. Additionally, a group of business students at Seattle University came together to help Clean Greens grow as an organization. While the students came up with a business plan to make the public more aware of their work, they also ventured out to the farm to learn about sustainable, organic produce and what they could do to start living a healthy lifestyle.
Although they have not received significant money from the city, relying mostly on self-fundraising, donations, and out-of-pocket costs, the team remains optimistic. Their eventual goal is to own a store to sell their produce.
“We haven’t had much support from grants,” Cross said. “They say we’re ‘not sustainable.’ Well, we’ve been here for 12 years. My thought is, they should support us now, while we’re here.”
The Clean Greens 2019 harvest season begins on July 13 and will continue through October 26. Anyone who wants to volunteer at the farm or at a market stand can contact Executive Director Lottie Cross for more information.
Featured photo by Camille Sheppard Dohrn.