Karen Washington has lived in New York City all her life, and has spent decades promoting urban farming as a way for all New Yorkers to access to fresh, locally grown food. She has been a resident of the Bronx for more than 26 years, although in 2015 she began living part time in Orange County, New York near the farm. Since 1985, Karen has been a community activist, striving to make New York City a better place to live.
As a community gardener and board member of the New York Botanical Gardens, Karen worked with Bronx neighborhoods to turn empty lots into community gardens. As an advocate, she stood up and spoke out for garden protection and preservation. As a member of the La Familia Verde Community Garden Coalition, she helped launch a City Farms Market, bringing garden fresh vegetables to her neighbors. She also cofounded 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, and in 2014 she was awarded with the James Beard Leadership Award. In 2023, she was a co-recipient of the James Beard Humanitarian of the Year award.
Karen serves on the boards of the New York Botanical Gardens, Soul Fire Farm, the Mary Mitchell Center, Black Farmer Fund, and Farm School NYC. She was a physical therapist for more than 30 years, and she "retired" in April 2014 to start Rise & Root Farm.