Robin Emmons had a nice corporate job, but she longed to do something else. Problem was she didn’t have a clue what that something was. She admits for a while she was seduced by her nice paycheck, “the bling and all that went with it.” Yet, she said, “I felt dead in that environment.”
Farming certainly never crossed her mind. But she traded designer suits and an office for t-shirts and jeans and tilling the fields. She is founder and director of Sow Much Good, a non-profit that provides access to fresh, organic produce to underserved communities in the Charlotte, N.C. area and educates people on healthy eating.
“I had no clue this is what I would be doing,” she said, laughing.
She quit her job in March of 2008. She found out that same day that her older brother, who suffered from mental illness and had been homeless for over a decade, had been sitting in a jail cell for two weeks.
Emmons followed his case as he was transferred from jail to state hospital to jail again. She filed to become his guardian. He ended up at a transitional house where he received psychiatric counseling and other services. His mental health improved but his physical health declined.
On a hunch, Emmons checked to see what he was eating.
“He was being fed out of cans and was eating sugary foods,” she said, fully understanding that the financially-strapped program caring for him was doing the best it could.
By this time Emmons, a vegetarian, had started growing her own vegetables.
“I planted a few extra rows for my brother’s program,” she said. “I took them excess eggplant, zucchini and whatever was coming up.”
She learned from her mistakes. She did not grow up on a farm. She grew up in urban Roxbury, Mass., where her father only planted a few tomatoes, she said. She moved to the South as an adult and said, “I saw all this green land. I dropped a few seeds into earth and was awed by the miracle of how they sprout.”
Then she paid attention to the thriving food movement around her. “But it was very white, male-dominated and elite,” she noted. “People who didn’t have a lot of financial resources or were displaced were left out.”
Emmons decided to do what she could to include these forgotten people—and her efforts were noticed.
“I was this brown girl, an anomaly” she said. “Farmers started coming out saying they read about me and asked me did I need land. These were redneck farmers with no connection to me other than our common humanity. They understood.”
One of her helpful “redneck farmers” is Danny Phillips, who she said has been generous, donating land, sharing his knowledge; teaching her how to prepare the soil, even how to drive a tractor.
“Sometimes people who appear very different are concerned about the same issue,” said Emmons. “It’s been a wonderful revelation for me.”
She now has a total of nine acres in Charlotte and the nearby area. Martin Marietta donated land in a low income neighborhood. Her three micro farms produce eight tons of food a year.