Jim Embry's most familiar phrase is "and what about our future?" His most familiar action is to quietly "get busy" with the work to be done. Jim has been a community activist for more than 50 years beginning as a civil rights activist in 1960 as a 10 year old. 

Jim Embry Bio 2014 

Jim Embry comes from a long line of social change agents that extend back at least to the Civil War. Three members of his family fought with the US Colored Troops during the Civil War and one was at Appomattox when General Lee surrendered. His maternal great grandfather, D.B Ballew, using his father’s (who died in the Civil War) pension was a Berea College student from 1879-81 at the same time as James Bond. James Bond who became well known as a Kentucky civil rights activist, was a Berea College trustee, gave the 1905 Commencement address and was the grandfather of Julian Bond.  D.B Ballew and James Bond were most certainly friends and forged ideas for activism in their community. D.B. Ballew and his granddaughter, Jean Ballew Barnett would often during the 1930’s refuse to give up their seat and move to the back of the bus. They were of course then put off the buses and had to walk the rest of the way into Richmond from their small farm. Jean Barnett was Jim Embry’s mother and passed on these stories of her grandparents and Civil War veteran great grandfathers.


 Embry was born in Richmond, KY a grandson of small farmers who were also social activists. Community embers of his family  fought in the Civil War, were present at Appomattox when General Lee surrendered, attended Berea College in 1879 and fought Jim Crow laws during the 1930’s and 40’s. This legacy of activism was passed on to him in 1960 when his mother, Jean Barnett Embry became president of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) chapter in Covington KY and Jim as a 10 year old became one of the youngest CORE members nationally.  It was within CORE picketing, sitting-in, wading-in, and protesting that Jim began a lifelong mission and passion for social change and community activism. Later while in high school Jim became the KY state youth chairman of the NAACP, helped organize for the March on Frankfort in 1964 led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and served on the local commission that drafted the first open housing ordinances in Covington, KY.  While attending the University of Kentucky Jim helped found and served as president of the Black Student Union that ushered in many significant campus wide racial justice initiatives such as integrating the basketball team , instituting diversity programs, African American History courses, banning of the song Dixie and rebel flags at sports events, organizing the annual Martin Luther King Day March.

In April 1968 while attending Dr King’s funeral and serving as a funeral marshal, Jim met Ernie Green (part of the Little Rock Nine) and was offered a summer job working in New York City. It was this experience in Brooklyn that exposed Jim to the issues of food and health injustice that became so central to his life’s work. In 1971 after being inspired by his friendship with Dick Gregory, Jim became a vegetarian/food activist and joined with others to found the Good Foods Co-op in Lexington. His marriage to Deborah Mapp produced five children that provided additional inspiration for activism and community involvement. Their children (Siku, Ayo, Segun, Ajani, Obiora; who all received college engineering degrees) and now their grandchildren (Zariah, Maisha & JJ, Shamar & Kinli, Seriah & Neah) all continue to be a source of pride, inspiration, mutual support and collective activism.

He has participated in most of the major social justice movements of his era: Civil Rights, Student, Black Power, Environmental, Labor, Anti-war and Peace, Women’s, Disability, LGBTQ, Anti-Nuclear, food justice and natural foods. Jim now believes that the sustainability movement encompasses all the other movements and will bring about a paradigm shift or The Great Turning which will allow humans to manifest our more divine relationships with each other and the Earth. 

In 2000, Jim concluded a critical chapter in his life by moving to Detroit and served as the Director of the Boggs Center to Nurture Community Leadership for 4 years where he worked closely with Grace Boggs. While in Detroit he organized meetings with and gave tours to kindred spirits from around the USA, Europe, Africa, Asia and South America, the British Parliament, the Nobel Peace Committee, Hopi elders and such people as Danny Glover, David Korten/Yes! Magazine, Joanna Macy, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee and House Rep. Dennis Kucinich. Through his work at the Boggs Center he was able to contribute to many community efforts including the Greening of Detroit, and the Catherine Ferguson Academy, the Detroit school for teen mothers which operates a working farm.

Inspired by his work in Detroit Jim returned to Kentucky in 2005 and founded Sustainable Communities Network in 2006. Since that time Jim has guided the development of 30+ community garden projects at homeless shelters, schools, neighborhood empty lots, city parks, faith institutions, domestic violence shelters that  is now creating a 40 acre farm,  Plant to Plate at Family Care Center , drug court programs, AIDS programs and more!  He has organized local food summits, served on planning committees for national food justice conferences, inspired youth community  Mural Art projects and provided important leadership in many community initiatives. Locally, the organization sponsors an annual Bluegrass Local Food Summit, establishes community and school gardens around the state, and is a leader in the city’s food justice work

His activism has included: serving on the board, a speaker or a member of many different organizations including:  The Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, Bluegrass Partnership for a Green Community, Good Foods Co-op, Earth Spirit Rising, Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group, Central KY Council for Peace and Justice, , The Interfaith Alliance, American Community Gardening Association, Slow Food USA, Lexington Climate Action Plan Team;  the restoration of Lexington’s African Cemetery No. 2, serving on the board of The First African Foundation,  helped found the Bluegrass African American Preservation Society-  and organized the Youth GreenCorps.  His speech at the Lexington Immigrant Rights Rally was published in the Latino Studies journal and quoted by Latino scholars.  Jim has offered ideas to Lexington Mayor Gray about sustainability, encouraged local citizens, organized films on health and still takes time to eat!!!

Jim also serves on the national planning committee for Growing Power’s  2014 National-International Urban & Small Farms Conference.

Often times called an “eco-activist” or "sacred Earth Activist", Jim was named Model of the Year by ACE Weekly in 2007, has received awards from local government,  Garden Crusader at Gardener's Supply, other recognitions and is known for being “Black and Greenwhile thinking “out-of-the-barn”. He has been video and radio interviewed on kyGREENtv, IATP-Climate and Agriculture, KET | Connections with Renee Shaw, Kentucky Forward Urban Farm OnlineUK Ag Communications, Key Conversations Radio,  blogged about on Goodness of the Garden , and written about on Cities Speak .

Because of his selection as a 2012 Slow Food International Congress delegate, Jim was featured on the KET Connections with Renee Shaw and was highlighted on the Slow Food: interview for 2012 Terra Madre/Salone del Gusto.  Jim’s has a special affection for supporting women at risk through gardening. While serving as a speaker at the 2012 International Slow Food Congress, Jim addressed the central role of women, how gardening can support the healing of women at risk and how breast milk is the best and first Slow Food food! This spring KET’s Dave Shuffet featured Jim and his work with women’s groups on the- KET Kentucky Life show.

He is a much sought after speaker presenting at more than 40+ events each year and as diverse as: Nashville Place at the Table,  Lexington TEDx, Yale University , Somerset Community College International Festival,  Growing Power Farm Conference, Breaking the Silence Conference  with David Korten,



Jim Embry’s photos have been featured in  ACE Weekly Art in Bloom at the UK Singletary Center, St. Joseph Women’s Hospital, local exhibits and in The Sustainable World Sourcebook for which he was also a featured writer.


Jim Embry director of Sustainable Communities Network regards himself as a sacred Earth activist who has been blessed to share his creative expressions and activism through photography. Well-known for his 50+ years of social justice and sustainability activism, Jim has travelled with his camera to such places as Italy, Canada, Brazil, India, Mexico, Cuba, other Caribbean countries and many places around the USA. As a scuba diver he has had the divine blessing to be in the womb of our mother-the ocean- from whence we evolved and where the colors are so incredible, the creatures so unique and the silence so spiritual.

From an interview on a website located in Bulgaria and featuring his photos, Jim says that we are all artists with multiple avenues of creativity”and photography is but one of his creative expressions. His photography is meant to be a reflection of our deeper humanity and a visible voice that speaks our truth and connections with life around us.  Given a camera as a young boy by his mother to capture family gatherings, Jim went on to capture the social movements and protest events that he was part of and eventually also the beauty of nature. His forthcoming book, Through the Lens of a Sacred Earth Activist: Italy and Terra Madre, will combine his narrative of social activism with the beauty of the Earth


In 2009 he contributed articles and photographs to two publications, Sustainable World Sourcebook  and the Encyclopedia of Northern Kentucky. His book, Through the Lens of a Sacred Earth Activist: Terra Madre and Italy will be published this fall and is dedicated to his aunt and uncle, Bessie and Andrew Johnson, who were a source of inspiration for his work in the local food and sustainability movement.

Later in February Jim will speak and show the documentary  Eight Acres of History at the Madison County Library in Berea, KY. 

Jim is being featured on KET - Kentucky Life in a program airing in March and April about his work to inspire community gardens in Lexington.


(Excerpted from "Yes!" Magazine, click here for website)

"This Year's Model" - Jim Embry in Ace Magazine. Click here to open a pdf of the article.