| Meet our Team: Mary King |
Mary King graduated Westminster School, Cassidy School, Boston University with a degree in International Relations, worked for a non-profit that paid the way for Latin Americans to go to grad school, then at New York University as an academic advisor for political science students. “I was well educated and operating in these intellectual circles and I realized I didn’t know anything! I’d never slept outside. I didn’t know how to grow anything (well, some houseplants.)”
She was especially interested in learning about plants and how they work, and about seed saving.
When an opportunity arose to help beekeepers in Sicily, Mary quit her job at NYU and was off to Italy. On her return to New York City, she realized she didn’t want to be in the city all the time, and took an internship upstate with Severine von Tscharner Fleming, who founded the Greenhorns, a grass roots organization to support a new generation of young U.S. farmers. While doing office work there, she helped out on a farm across the road harvesting potatoes and preparing beds for winter. It was her first experience getting her hands in the dirt.
Her next internship was at a biodynamic Pennsylvania farm and CSA. “I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much in such a short time,” Mary says. Too, in Pennsylvania she had her first experience with access to a car and when the internship finished and she returned full-time to New York City, she decided to spend more time in a car and made a road trip around the country, which included a stop in Oklahoma City to visit her mom.
“During that trip I saw that people were doing interesting things. I was shocked at what was happening in my hometown. Things were just starting to happen here. In 12 years I’d built a life on the East Coast. On that visit, when people said I could be a part of something here and would I move back, there was no way I’d thought about that. I had no work-related connections in Oklahoma.”
Back to New York City, she soon took an internship at Greenbank Farm on Whidbey Island in Washington State. When she finished her internship in August, an Oklahoma friend (on her Oklahoma trip, they had re-connected, from pre-school days) came to pick her up and they drove to Wisconsin. They began a migratory life, spending half the year in Wisconsin and half the year in Oklahoma City.
In Wisconsin and Minnesota Mary learned a lot about growing food. “So many people had knowledge of wild plants and foraging; how to feed yourself walking through a forest; medicinals as well, and trees, forests. I learned just by being with those people.”
Mary was involved in two specific harvests: wild rice and maple syrup. The wild rice harvest was done traditionally, building a pit, putting the rice over a fire then into a pit, where, wearing deer hide booties they had made themselves in the traditional way, they “danced the rice” all day every day for two and a half weeks.
The wild maple syrup harvest was another incredible experience for Mary. “These are things you never could learn in school.”
It was during that period that she attended a conference on organic seed saving with the Seed Savers Exchange and finally learned about the subject that had compelled her from the start: learning about how plants work and on-the-ground practices of saving seeds.
Half the year in the north, where she and her partner bought land, and where their daughter was born, and half the year in Oklahoma, Mary attended the very first, organizing meetings from which CommonWealth Urban Farm was born.
In rural Wisconsin, she and her partner hoped to start a homestead. And soon Mary began to realize that some things in the city, “are part of who I am. I like to walk to the neighbor’s. I like to walk to a café and run into a friend. I don’t like driving places all the time. I realized I want to be in the city. And, I didn’t want to be a homesteader and save seed. I tried different iterations of growing food and running a CSA and working on farms. I realized I wanted to garden, to grow vegetables in my own garden, working a job and supporting farmers buying food from them, and being a part of a community.”
At a point of transition, she noticed a small “house for rent” sign and followed the arrow pointing to a bungalow in the Central Park neighborhood. When she went around back, she saw what she had a hunch was true: the backyard backs up to CommonWealth Urban Farm. Mary and her daughter, who is now 5, moved in. They are a part of the CommonWealth community. Mary is the farm’s bookkeeper and continues to take on more and more tasks, including coordinating tours. She and her daughter have made it a practice to walk the gardens morning or evenings, noticing changes.
“My peaceful place is in nature…the woods, fields, while I’m weeding,” says Mary. “It’s where I find comfort, peace. Even when I was in school in Boston, I use to go to Walden Pond. I found a place I could walk through the woods to go swimming there. I sought out nature when I could.”
It seems the best of both worlds: living and contributing to an urban farm, with her own garden in her front yard.
“CommonWealth is many different things,” Mary says. “Different people’s love of the land, nature, the earth, made physical. It’s my friend Lia’s child; the amount of love and care she puts into raising this child. It’s a beautiful, ever-growing network of people. It’s an education center. And it grows amazing, delicious food.
“I feel lucky and amazed to be in this special place. I feel comforted. It’s like everyone is perambulating—walking, being held in safe circles.”