Karen Washington has lived in New York City all her life, and has been a resident of the Bronx for over 26 years. Since 1985 Karen has been a community activist, striving to make the New York City a better place to live. As a community gardener and board member of the New York Botanical Gardens, Karen has worked with Bronx neighborhoods to turn empty lots into community gardens. As an advocate, she has stood up and spoken out for garden protection and preservation. As a member of the La Familia Verde Garden Coalition, she helped launched a City Farms Market, bringing garden fresh vegetables to her neighbors. Karen is a Just Food board member and Just Food Trainer, leading workshops on food growing and food justice to community gardeners all over the city. Karen is a board member and former president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition, a group that was founded to preserve community gardens.  She also Co- Founded Black Urban Growers (BUGS) an organization of volunteers committed to building networks and community support for growers in both urban and rural settings.  In 2012 Ebony magazine voted her one of their 100 most influential African Americans in the country. Last year she was the recipient of the 2014 James Beard Leadership Award. In January 2015 she started farming with her close friends on three acres of land. The name of the farm is Rise&Root Farm.

Professionally Karen had been a Physical Therapist for  37years, balancing  her professional life with community service. Since retiring in April, she plans on pursuing her passion for farming full time .

“To grow your own food gives you power and dignity. You know exactly what you’re eating because you grew it.  It’s good, it’s nourishing and you did this for yourself, your family and your community.” Karen Washington




Jessica Gordon Nembhard is a political economist and Professor of Community Justice and Social Economic Development in the Africana Studies Department at John Jay College, City University of NY; and author of Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. She has numerous publications on cooperative economics, community economic development, credit unions, wealth inequality, community wealth, and Black political economy. An affiliate scholar with the Centre for the Study of Co-operatives, University of Saskatchewan, Canada, she is a member of the Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO) Newsletter and Collective, as well as the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, the Eastern Conference for Workplace Democracy, the Southern Grassroots Economies Project, The Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund,  the Association of Cooperative Educators, and the US Solidarity Economy Network. Gordon Nembhard is also a member of the Shared Leadership Team of Organizing Neighborhood Equity (ONE) DC (a community organizing organization in Washington, DC). Jessica is the proud mother of Susan and Stephen, and the grandmother of Stephon and Hugo Nembhard.

"There are lessons to be learned from the history of cooperative economic models that can be applied to future discussions about community economic development in communities of color" 

Jessica Gordon Nembhard


Noémi Giszpenc is the Executive Director of the Cooperative Development Institute, a 501(c)3 founded in 1994 with the mission of building a cooperative economy in the Northeast. She began her career as an economics researcher at the World Bank, worked as an editor at the Nonprofit Quarterly, a magazine for nonprofit managers, and became a principal at Ownership Associates, Inc., a consulting firm in Cambridge, MA specializing in developing an ownership culture at employee-owned firms. As part of earning a Master’s in Community Economic Development from Southern New Hampshire University, she did a thesis on the creation of a cooperative economy in the Northeast, including the practical development of an interactive cooperative directory, which has now evolved into the Data Commons Cooperative (datacommons.coop). She has a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been on the board of Green Worker Cooperatives since 2008.

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