Peter Masundire is a man on a mission.
As chairperson of the Friends of Rainier Beach Urban Farm and Wetlands, he’s helped lead a capital campaign that raised more than $3 million towards the expansion of the farm. Construction is currently underway and expected to be completed in time for this year’s growing season.
The massive overhaul of the former Atlantic City Nursery includes an organic farm, a children’s learning garden, outdoor and indoor class spaces, a community gathering space, greenhouses, orchards, apiaries, chicken coops, protected wetlands, park amenities and a connection to Beer Sheva Park.
The farm ultimately plans to engage 5,000 community members and produce more than 20,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables annually, to be distributed primarily to Rainier Valley residents.
“The farm is important to me not only because of the organically grown fresh produce, but the potential it has to be an economic center where jobs are created and it is an asset that residents of Rainier Beach can be proud of,” says Peter.
“There is so much negativity, both real and perceived about Rainier Beach, the farm provides an opportunity to change the conversation from gangs, shootings and robberies to collard greens, shallots and blackberries! The farm is also important to me in that it is a an example, symbol of what people can achieve when they put their minds together and work towards a common goal.”
But that’s not at all. In fact, Peter’s done more for his community in the last 20 years than most people do in a lifetime.
In the early 2000s, he worked with a group of community members to save the Branch Villa Nursing Home, that had been earmarked for closure. The home serves primarily African American elders and continues operating today as Leon SullivanHealth Care Centre on South Dearborn Street.
Eight years later, Peter served as the communications director for a grassroots group working to elect then-Senator Obama. He was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention and attended both inaugurations in 2008 and 2012.
In 2009, he began working with a group of neighbors to convert the closed Seattle Parks and Recreation Atlantic City Nursery into the largest urban farm in Seattle.
Peter also serves on the Institutional Review Board at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC).
“The purpose of IRB review is to review research activities involving human subjects, to ensure that ethical standards for the care and protection of human subjects have been established, and that research activities are in compliance with all pertinent regulations (federal, state and local) and with FHCRC policy,” says Peter. “The term ‘human subjects’ may include patients, outpatients, donors of organs, tissues and services, informants and normal volunteers, including students who are placed at risk during training.”
What motivates him to do this work?
“The opportunity to contribute towards the betterment of human kind and being a voice for the voiceless,” he says.
This week, Peter was kind enough to take the time to answer a few questions for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people.
How long in South Seattle?
I emigrated to Seattle from the UK in 1996, and bought our first house in 1998.
Where from originally?
Zimbabwe, southern Africa. (Lived in the UK for 16 years)
Healthcare IT Consultant
What do you like most about your day job?
Seeing healthcare delivery improvement through the use of technology. Also, it gives me opportunity to travel – I currently commute to the east coast every week!
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Providing for my family and supporting my extended family back home in Zimbabwe.
What are you passionate about?
Equity not equality, and justice for all humankind.
What are your hobbies?
Travel. Even though I travel for work, I still enjoy traveling to different places, whether it’s a weekend getaway to Vancouver or a three-day flight to visit family in southern Africa. My wife also thinks I am becoming a sports junkie – I blame it on the great runs that our Seattle Seahawks and Sounders have had over the last few years!! I enjoy music, particularly from southern Africa. Every time we travel there, I come back with a bag full of music CDs of different genres, from gospel, jazz, dance and whatever is the latest in the charts. Over the years I have helped put on shows by African bands in Seattle. In fact, on February 10th, there will be a concert at Columbia City Theatre by Oliver Mtukudzi, a legendary music/cultural icon from Zimbabwe, that I helped put together.
Tell us about your family:
How much time do you have? It depends on your definition of family!! My wife, Yalonda and I have a blended family, a teenage daughter and two adult children (son and daughter). However, I have family all over the world including Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, the UK, Australia, Tennessee, Florida and Seattle. My mom, who turns 93 this year, lives in Zimbabwe.
What’s your most favorite thing about South Seattle?
The people, the food, Seward Park and the fact I can leave my house and catch a flight (be at the gate) at the airport in less than 45 minutes, and that includes going through the TSA security lines!
What’s your least favorite thing about South Seattle?
The bike lanes that are taking over our streets.
Where is your favorite place to go in South Seattle?
Jogging around Seward Park. It helps clears my mind and find it very inspirational to see people of different ages, from different cultures and at different levels of fitness, exercising at a pace that’s comfortable to them.
If you could live anywhere besides South Seattle, where would it be?
Anywhere the sun actually shines and the rain knows that there is a season assigned to it.
If there was one thing you could change about South Seattle, what would it be?
Have our own government and mayor.
Who inspires you?
What was the last thing you read?
“We Need New Names: A Novel” by NoViolet Bulawayo
Tell us something about you that not many people know:
But then many people would know!
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
That’s too deep, not sure I would know what to do if I reached a state of perfect happiness. However, seeing the sunrise while seated in first class on a Lufthansa flight while flying over the African sky is close!
What is your greatest fear?
That I will not have the time to complete all I was created to do by the time I leave this place!
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
Knowing there is always the last minute and thinking that I can get things done in that last minute!
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Lack of appreciation of the fact we are all created for a particular purpose! I also don’t like it when, at social gatherings, people ask me what I do as if one’s profession defines who a person is. I don’t know if it is a “Western” thing, but I just can’t stand it, because to me it feels like people want to judge or measure themselves against others based on what they do for a living. As human beings, we are so much more that! This is kind of funny, but on one level it’s not – I don’t like when people think that because I am from Africa, I am supposed to know the town/village where their neighbor’s daughter worked in while volunteering for Peace Corps.
What is your greatest regret?
Not being present when my dad passed on.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My wife, Yalonda. My two girls, Lucia and Anesu, come a close second!
What is your current state of mind?
Kinda tired, just recovering from a cold that doesn’t seem to want to go away!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Staying alive. One achievement I am proud of is that I worked with my siblings to bring electricity to the village where my mom lives in rural Zimbabwe. Next month, for the first time in her entire 93 years of life, my mom will be able drink cold water from a refrigerator in her own kitchen!
What is your most treasured possession?
What do you most value in your friends?
Friendship. Having friends that I know I can be “me” when I am around them, friends that I know I can pick up the phone at any time, regardless of time zone and share a moment in life with, be it a joke or some not so welcome news.
Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Simba in the Lion King
Who are your heroes in real life?
My mom, wife and two daughters – notice, they are all women!!
What is it that you most dislike?
People who cut in front of you, only to stop in front of you at traffic lights and people in customer service positions who think that their own personal opinions are above the rules and policies that are supposed to guide their service delivery! I also don’t like people, who for whatever reason, think or feel that they can tell me where or what I should be doing. As I mentioned earlier, I travel for work and there have been many times while waiting to board a plane in one of those lines that airlines have us wait in these days that someone comes to me and says “this line is for group one” as if I have no business being in that line!
What else should we know about you?
A few years ago, while driving from Vancouver, BC I noticed that the lines at the boarder were very long. I was driving my small blue pick up truck and as I inched my way towards the boarder, I could see that the lines in the “truck” lanes were moving much faster, so I decided to switch lanes. In between the huge semis, some of them almost 2-storey high, my little truck looked like a toy! when I reached the boarder crossing, the boarder patrol agent looked at me and said in a very stern voice “this is a truck crossing, what are you doing in here? You should be over there with other passenger cars.” I gave him a mock innocent look and responded, “I am driving a truck, sir.” He pointed towards the line of big semis behind me and said “You see those over there, those are trucks, this little thing ain’t no truck!” I responded, “but, its a pick up truck, sir.”
He looked at me, with a bit of a smirk on his face, like he was trying to laugh but remain stern at the same time. He said, “give me your paperwork”, I handed him my enhanced driver’s license and he tapped a few characters on his computer keyboard and handed my driver’s license back and said, “Go on along, get out of my sight, but don’t try this again.” As we looked at each other, we both smiled and I drove off into Washington state, much quicker than I would have done had I stayed in the passenger vehicle lane!
Is there a South Seattle neighbor you’d like to know more about? Nominate them for our People in Your Neighborhood column — a series of interviews with some of South Seattle’s most interesting and engaging people. Send your suggestions to email@example.com. Photos/Yalonda Gill Masundire.