Akilah Martin is first and foremost in partnership with soil and water. Akilah earned her BS degree in Soil Science from Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University and her Doctorate from Purdue University in Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Her professional interests include enhancing relationships of individuals and communities to natural resources. Her teaching and scholarly/research interests are centered in soil and water quality in urban communities. Current projects involve food sovereignty, Chicago Grows Food, Advocates for Urban Ag, life expectancy and health inequalities, installing rain gardens to create a “sponge town”, and building container gardens for “growing your own groceries.” Akilah is abundantly living life through two core values: Freedom and Joy. To that end, she is a certified coach specializing in building vibrant relationships. Her website is www.amrootbuilders.com Find her on Instagram at amrootbuilders.

In our conversation Akilah discusses:

  • How growing up with a science teacher mother and studying science in her youth, then plant science in college, took her to soil science, a PhD at Purdue, a successful academic career, and now a full-time focus on community development with an emphasis on soil and urban agriculture.
  • How the concept of ‘freedom’ guides her life, her coaching, and her community development work.
  • The overwhelm she can feel as someone trying to address suffering in her community, and the damage to people’s bodies that she witnesses in communities experiencing layers of environmental contamination.
  • How empowering messages can build more momentum than suffering-based messages.
  • Why being synergistic in her contributions keeps her from feeling pulled in too many directions, and what kind of self-care practices sustain her.
  • How her urban agriculture advocacy is supporting urban water access, food access, nutrition, and Chicago Grows Food, which has been offering Grow Kits to residents as part of their Grow Your Groceries Campaign. Assessing and addressing contaminated soil from industrial urban uses.
  • How people can break away from food insecurity and into food sovereignty. “People are getting more interested in that because they see how their food really impacts their health. And honestly it impacts your mental health at the top—what your brain is able to do.”


If you would like to hear more from Akilah, find another interview on Humans & Nature here.