Meet Modern Farmer Ramel Smooth Bradley
Ramel Smooth Bradley may have grown up in New York City, but the former University of Kentucky basketball standout now considers the Bluegrass State his second home. Ramel played four years at Rupp Arena as a Wildcat, but he’s equally proud of another Rupp Arena achievement — receiving his bachelor’s degree from UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment in 2008. So it makes perfect sense that when his old friend Jonathan Webb called asking for help with AppHarvest, Ramel immediately said, “Sign me up.”
To understand why Ramel’s community director role suits him so well, it helps to know more about his New York City upbringing.
Ramel was born and raised in Brooklyn — not the new, gentrified Brooklyn of sky-high rents and artisan cupcakes, but the older Brooklyn of corner bodegas and strong neighborhood ties. He lived with his mother and grandmother, but he will tell you he grew up “in a mission” — a mission started by his grandmother and dedicated to helping “the hungry, the hopeless and the helpless.” From an early age, Ramel was involved, supplying food and clothing to those in need. “To this day, we continue to do these things,” he says. “My family taught me the value of community and the importance of giving to others.”
In high school, Ramel’s basketball prowess took him to a Florida academy for future world-class athletes. From there, he earned a scholarship to play for Kentucky, the most storied college basketball program in the country. By the end of his UK career, he was team captain, a fan favorite and ranked as Kentucky’s 28th all-time scorer. After graduation, Ramel played overseas in places like Croatia, Israel, France and Turkey. He especially loved Israel, both for its biblical history and its modern vitality, and Israelis loved him back with kids calling out his name when they saw him on the street.
But eventually he realized it was time to put basketball behind him. “On a visit home, I saw how my community had changed. A lot of people who I’d grown up with in the mission didn’t have enough money to stay in the newly gentrified neighborhood. My grandmother’s health was suffering, and I saw how a lack of access to affordable, healthy food played a big role.”
Ramel helped the mission re-establish a neighborhood pantry with a group called City Harvest, which collects food from groceries and distributes it in the community. He taught Sunday school and volunteered with innovative food education group AgTech X.
Then in 2017, Ramel got the call from Jonathan about AppHarvest. “He talked about wanting to build greenhouses and explained how all the problems I saw in Brooklyn existed where he lived in Eastern Kentucky, too. It couldn’t have been a better moment for me. I told him I definitely wanted to help.”
Ramel moved back to Kentucky and launched AppHarvest’s agricultural entrepreneurs program at Shelby Valley High School in Pikeville, Kentucky. Students learn about plant science and how to build their local food supply, while getting first-hand experience growing vegetables hydroponically in a super-high-tech container farm. Ramel’s friends at AgTech X helped with the curriculum, providing information about national agricultural trends.
“The students are so excited to see this new industry,” Ramel says. “That’s what gets me up at 5 a.m. each day. They have that same love for their hometown that I have for mine. So now I get to go back and forth between Eastern Kentucky and Brooklyn, doing what I love most: helping communities put healthy food on their tables.”