Destination Career is a series profiling recent Purdue Agriculture graduates.
Alum sowing seeds of urban agriculture
By Emma Hopkins
Photo provided by Sasha Broadstone
Sasha Broadstone serves Racine, Wisconsin, by increasing the amount of healthy, affordable food available in the area from urban gardens. Broadstone earned a Purdue Agriculture degree in 2010. . Full-size image (5.01 MB)
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Plants have amazed Sasha Broadstone since she was very young. After graduating from Purdue, she took her affinity for plants one step further: she began using them to fight for the basic human right to fresh, healthy food.
“My main interest in agriculture now is the right to food,” Broadstone said. “As human beings, we need certain things like food, clean water and shelter. Yes, you can live on that, but shouldn’t you also have the right to healthy and affordable food?”
Broadstone earned a bachelor’s degree in botany and plant biology in 2010. Five years later, she said she believes she is exactly in the position she is supposed to be: working as a sustainable food systems coordinator in Racine, Wisconsin. Most of her work involves implementing urban agriculture. She serves the community by increasing the amount of healthy, affordable food available in the area from urban gardens. Her work is backed through AmeriCorps VISTA—the domestic version of the Peace Corps.
When it comes to urban agriculture, Broadstone said planting a backyard garden is only the tip of the iceberg. Broadstone works with three nonprofit organizations to provide locally grown, affordable fruits and vegetables to those in need. She has helped the community with its food challenges through a series of projects. Recently, she worked with others to build a greenhouse at a homeless shelter.
The food produced in these projects is donated to residents who would not otherwise be able to afford fresh, healthy produce. Broadstone said she believes that because of this initiative, some people are reclaiming their right to eat healthy and enjoy it.
Working alongside colleagues and community residents, Broadstone helps scout vacant lots and empty areas in the city that nonprofits can acquire and use to grow food. In this way, properties that may have once supported businesses or been homes get a second life and purpose by supporting a garden that serves the community and gives hope to underprivileged residents. She said she finds it fulfilling to work so closely with the people she’s helping.
“Today, one of our greenhouse workers told me how much she likes working in the garden and was giving me excited updates about which vegetables have sprouted overnight,” Broadstone said. “I look forward to seeing her continue to mature and build confidence as she learns to tend to the growth of our plants.”
Broadstone works with organizations that function in different ways to promote agricultural and community sustainability in Racine. Current projects include a federally approved incubator kitchen that gives new, local food business owners access to a kitchen in which they can legally prepare food for public consumption. This temporary access gives new businesses time to accumulate funds to buy or build their own kitchens, which increases the local food market, providing more jobs and opportunities for more local food purchases.
Another important project is a communication effort between farmers and chefs that assists in connecting food businesses to local farms to sustain the community in part with locally grown foods. Broadstone’s passion increases with the success of these projects, because what matters to her are the results—increasing numbers of food-secure people.
Straight out of Purdue, Broadstone worked with the Bureau of Botanists as a field botanist.
“A lot of it was focused on sustainable ag,” Broadstone said. “But then I was thinking, ‘What if you add human beings to the equation?’ Even if agriculture is sustainable, will that matter if several people can’t afford to buy healthy food?”
Broadstone became increasingly interested in food security challenges and decided to focus her career on a kind of farming that is flexible and sustainable.
“During that time after college, I got interested in where my food comes from, sustainable ag and some of the politics involved in it,” Broadstone said. “What’s interesting is that poverty is all around us, and it’s something we ignore. That’s driving what I do—limiting food insecurity.”
Urban agriculture is based on the concept that communities have the potential to be at least partially self-sufficient. Because many people who do not have the means to buy healthy food live in urban areas, urban agriculture takes advantage of abandoned or unused city spaces where food can grow. Growing up in rural Kentucky, Broadstone found her love of plants in the forests and fields of her childhood home.
“As you get older, you think you’re going to do one thing and then life sort of leads you down this interesting and winding path to somewhere a little different, but still very good,” Broadstone said. “My work is something I think is very important and it’s something I’m passionate about.”