Urban Farmer Wants to Grow a Washington, D.C. With Zero Food Deserts

Christopher Bradshaw

Next City isn’t just a news website, we are a nonprofit organization with a mission to inspire social, economic and environmental change in cities. Part of how we do that is by connecting our readers to urban changemakers and holding an annual Vanguard conference bringing together 40 top young urban leaders.

Name: Christopher Bradshaw

Current Occupation: Founder and Executive Director, Dreaming Out Loud

Hometown: Morristown, Tennessee

Current City: Washington, D.C.

Twitter Tag: @doldc

I get to work by: Subway/Car

What was your first job? My first job was washing dishes at Pizza Hut at 14 or 15 years old.

What is your favorite city and why? I think that Toronto is my new favorite city. It’s a big city that feels welcoming, stays really clean and is really diverse.

Did you always want to be a social entrepreneur? Looking back at the arc of my life thus far, it seems that I was destined to be a social entrepreneur and a social change maker. I just didn’t know how I would get here. When I was in third grade (that’s nine years old), I helped to organize a boycott of recess among my classmates due to a teacher-imposed ban on tag. So you can say it’s always been in my blood!

What do you like most about your current job? I love working outside, being creative and growing food. I’m always astonished by the miracle of growing food, seeing a small seed that grows to a plant that provides nourishment (and tastes good). All of these aspects of my job are applied in my community, which makes it even more fulfilling.

What is the coolest project you worked on? The coolest project that I’ve worked on is at our urban garden space in Washington, D.C. It has a beautiful backdrop, a brilliant work of public art that covers an entire historic church. We are working to make it into a model of a highly productive, community-centered hub of agriculture.

Christopher Bradshaw is founder and executive director of Dreaming Out Loud, which was created as a response to the educational and economic disparities in underserved urban communities. Dreaming Out Loud’s mission is to use food as a tool to feed the dreams of all people, and build more resilient communities.

What are the hard parts about your job? There are two levels of challenge in my work: social and financial. Working within communities without equal access to healthy food, or often food at all, folks depend on our farmers’ markets for food access and affordability. Any challenge that affects our ability to be present, or provide incentive programs that help folks to afford produce means that someone may literally go hungry. That’s a lot of pressure! Financially, it has also been difficult to penetrate the funding community to access the funds to grow and scale our work, but that’s changing.

What is the biggest challenge facing cities today? I think that creating sustainable, rewarding, family-supporting wages for low-income, low-to-moderate-skilled individuals is the most critical challenge facing cities. Technology isn’t the solution for every social ailment or cleavage that the current economic system creates. You can’t under-resource, under-educate, over-police, over-incarcerate people for generations and then say that tech is going to save the day for the members of society we’ve left behind.

What’s your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal)? My BHAG is to eliminate food deserts in Washington, D.C. and create 100 sustainable jobs with family-supporting wages through a just local food system.

What’s the best professional advice you have received? To never be afraid to fail, evolve and let go, and allow others to be creative within what you’ve initiated.

Who do you most admire? I most admire my mother. She’s accomplished so many things despite having to fight through racism, sexism and being born without the privilege of social position. She’s a true hero. Presently, and historically (and randomly), I also admire bell hooks, Martin Luther King Jr., Will Allen, Charlie Rose, LeBron James and Fannie Lou Hamer for various reasons.

What do you look for when hiring someone? Three things: commitment, inquisitiveness and integrity. I want to know that you are committed to the vision of a better world, that you question systems and ways to do things better, and that you are honest in intention and action, in all phases of life.

What career advice would you give an emerging urban leader? Practice what you preach. Ask questions. Build partnerships. You don’t know what you don’t know. These three statements will allow people to forgive you when you make mistakes, and allow you to learn what you need to, and build capacity to transform lives and communities in partnership.

Christopher Bradshaw was named a 2015 American Express Emerging Innovator.