It is 1 P.M. in New Orleans, and AnnaSophia Robb is getting very hyped on community gardens. “They make food, but they also create bonds between neighbors, and soil nutrients, and educational opportunities,” says the actress and Wild Advocate, who works with the Urban Growers Collective to literally turn cities green. “Maybe I sound like a total hippie, but I think sharing land with your community is really beautiful. It’s also necessary when building a sustainable future and healing from the past.”
Robb is in The Big Easy to film Rebel Ridge, a new Netflix thriller, but until it comes out you can watch her in critically-acclaimed fare like Doctor Death and Little Fires Everywhere… or OG classics like The Carrie Diaries and Soul Surfer.
Here’s what the 28-year-old Saggitarius has to say about mason jars, designer clothes, and “the most basic” vegan obsession a girl could have.
What makes you feel close to Urban Growers Collective?I love flowers. I love gardens; my uncle's a big gardener, and my grandfather was, as well. And I remember when I was in high school, we learned about Victory Gardens during World War Two, which were these community gardens, because the other farms had to send produce to the frontlines. So all of a sudden, you had whole communities—led by women, mostly—cultivating their own land and creating their own food sources. I thought that was amazing... Of course, different communities have been doing this for years, but it’s not as normalized or encouraged as it should be... I just loved this idea of going back to the basics, learning how to cultivate vegetables at your own home. And when I started working with Urban Growers Collective in Chicago, I was calling that area a “food desert.” But they educated me, saying that truly, when a community doesn’t have access to nutritious food, it’s food apartheid.
Can you explain ‘food apartheid’ little more?
Yeah, deserts can sustain life! Deserts have whole ecosystems! Food apartheid takes the resources to create an ecosystem away, not because of nature, but because of social inequities. Food apartheid is when there isn't access to fresh produce, and also culturally specific foods, because of a systemic problem. So gardening becomes healing on so many different levels. You’re feeding your community. You’re making nutrient-rich soil through composting. You’re training kids and adults and older people to become urban farmers, and claim ownership of that land… and you’re making all of that possible, where it was once wasn’t, due to racial, social, and economic inequality.
Photo Credit: Lawrence Agyei
You live in New York City, where it’s a bit harder to garden, right?It’s where I live, and it’s that I travel a lot for work, which makes it harder to cultivate things seasonally. Instead, I like to buy local produce and support local farmers to keep the distance down between where my food comes from and where it’s being eaten. You can compost at farmers markets in New York, too!
I just did, and it was really simple, but also weirdly exciting. I was secretly proud.No, it’s not weird to be proud of that behavior! You should be! Because taking little things and putting them into everyday practice is how we make things happen.
How do you use nature to make your daily life better?Well, I grew up in Colorado, and because it’s so beautiful there, I’ve always just loved being outside. I mean, I think it’s healing and peaceful for most people. But as I've gotten older, and the phone's always ringing and there's always a notification or message to respond to, I think it’s even more important to take time and go for a walk. Even in the city, you can find some trees and peacefulness, and just take a breather from the screens for like, 10 minutes, 20 minutes. It really does make a difference.
How does the natural world impact your mental health?Okay, I have this weird practice where if I'm ever somewhere really beautiful, I try to take a mental image of it. Then when I'm having a freakout moment in my everyday life, I try to come back to that place. I think, “This place is still here. It’s still beautiful. The trees are still here and the creek is still running. You have things running around in your head, but outside, there is something physical, tangible, and peaceful, and it’s still there for you!”
You’ve been on film and TV sets since you were a little girl. Have you seen a big change in the circularity of Hollywood?
Honestly? No. [Laughing.] I’m sorry, but you Hollywood needs to take more accountability! It's actually pretty depressing!... Right before the pandemic, some sets would encourage everyone to bring their own water bottle instead of using single-use plastic bottles. They’d have one water cooler where everyone could fill up. But with COVID, it broke too many rules about social distancing and keeping equipment wiped down. I hope we can go back to things like that, and obviously, even bigger initiatives. But at the industry-wide level, it’s tough to get everyone to agree on what to do. It’s also, unfortunately, still really expensive to do the right thing. I was even planning my wedding, and trying to do it in a more eco-conscious way? It made everything so much more expensive. What I hope changes in the next couple years is that we find more ways that regenerative living becomes practical. We shouldn’t have to pay more to protect the planet; in fact, we should be paying less!
Photo Credit: Lawrence Agyei
Have you seen a big change in the circularity of your own life?
I’ve become more sustainable, or mindful, I suppose. And sustainability is circular. Talk to your grandparents about ‘sustainability’ and they’ll laugh.They won’t know what you’re talking about, but they’ll know that if you’ve got a mason jar, you use it over and over… Our generation just has more access, it’s easier and cheaper to waste. For example, I’m trying to be much more thoughtful about what I buy and want a capsule wardrobe. I don't want to have a bunch of stuff because I don't wear a bunch of stuff! So buying pieces of clothing that I love, paying to get them tailored, mending them if they rip and taking care of them, is essential. Obviously vintage is great. Small things like that. But of course, we know that the onus for real environmental change relies on large corporations, on renewable energy, and on policy change. I think part of a sustainable lifestyle is putting pressure on companies, holding them accountable and letting your representatives know that the earth is important. I think the most important personal change one can make is [to use] your vote, backing candidates that have green initiatives and are serious about them. We can do small things in our life, of course, and that is a lifelong process of becoming more sustainable. But we need policies in place to make sustainable lifestyles accessible. We need grants for community gardens, we need investments in green energy, we need restrictions on fossil fuels.