Meet the Urban Farmer Bringing Organic Produce to the Nation’s Capital
Gail Taylor is on a mission to improve the planet and fix systemic inequalities—one veggie at a time.
Gail Taylor never planned to be a farmer. After earning a degree in foreign policy, she worked in Guatemala helping women recover from the trauma of war. But when she returned home to Washington, D.C., in 2005, Taylor volunteered at an organic farm in Maryland. “I wanted to learn where my food comes from,” she says. She fell in love: “Farming was like putting on a glove that fit.”
Today, Taylor, 42, owns Three Part Harmony Farm, two acres of rented city land where she grows organic kale, chard, salad greens, radishes, and carrots. She also works to promote racial equality in food production and is part of the Black Dirt Farm Collective, a collective of farmers, educators, scientists, agrarians, seed keepers, and researchers guiding a political education process. And, in addition to putting in 12- to 14-hour days on the farm, holds down two other jobs to make ends meet. “Growing vegetables is not lucrative,” she says. “But it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Here, she shares what keeps her coming back to the soil season after season.
At what point did you know farming was for you?
"My first time going to the farm I was working at, I had decided to ride my bike from the Metro station like 10 miles away—and I got lost. As the sun was starting to come up, I arrived at this 285-acre farm totally exhausted and I hadn't eaten breakfast yet. The person who was there, who eventually became my boss and mentor, she went into the field and pulled cantaloupe right off the vine, sliced it in half, scooped out the seeds, and gave me a piece. She just must've sensed that I needed a little sugar. The whole experience was so magical. From the beginning, I was hooked."
What has growing food taught you about yourself?
"I like to say that I am the people’s farmer. It’s not enough that I grow the tomatoes. I want to be connected to the people who are eating my food. When I see our crops, I can see that we’re nourishing people. That keeps me going.
I also learned that I am a person who goes all in. I wanted to find a career that would be more connected to something concrete like, I just picked 2000 pounds of tomatoes today and that's great, and now I can go home. What I learned is that, even then, I don't go home at the end of a workday. I just can't help myself. It's not enough that I grew the tomatoes. I want to know about the other people who are growing tomatoes and not getting paid a fair wage. I want to know how I can be more connected to my neighbors and the people who are eating the food that I grow. On a broader political level, I want to be able to say I do care about climate justice, and I do think that farmers have an important voice in that conversation as well. So yeah, I tried to start farming because I thought it would be simpler, but at the end of the day, there is nothing more political than access to land and food and water." (Related: How One Woman Turned a Passion for Farming Into Her Life's Work)
What’s it like to have a farm in the middle of a city?
“I lease two acres of land in D.C. from a Catholic church. When I’m working on the farm, I look out at the field, and it’s idyllic. When I face the other direction, there’s traffic with people honking at one another. But every year we see more wildlife on the property. It’s an entirely different ecosystem that’s flourishing in the city.”
What’s your favorite veggie?
“Definitely greens. A typical breakfast for me is half a bunch of kale fried in a cast-iron skillet with a couple of eggs on top. When it’s hot out, I’ll put a bunch of kale in the Vitamix with some frozen fruit, a little bit of yogurt, and honey."
(Making your stomach growl? Whip up this brown rice kale bowl with fried eggs to satisfy your cravings.)
Is farming the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done?
“Hands down. When I see some plants it's like, 'Oh, that was worth it. That was worth getting out of bed for and worth waking up at 5:30 in the morning for.' You can see that you're nourishing people and nourishing your neighbors. I think that's what keeps me going. We had five moms in our CSA give birth in the last 18 months and I'm looking at the belly and I'm thinking, 'I'm feeding you in there.' (Related: The #1 Trick to See If You Should Buy Organic Produce)
Doesn’t everybody want to feel that what you’re doing matters in a way that’s beyond anything you could have imagined? It’s a deep connection to the earth. I’m part of this group of people who can help make this planet better for future generations. Farming also takes me back to my past, to my ancestors who grew cotton or had their own kitchen gardens. Through the soil, I am connected to the past, present, and future.”
Shape Magazine, April 2020 issue