The Quintessential Black Farmer: The Urban Garden

Kirtrina’s urban garden.

by Kirtrina Baxter

Urban gardening is the new wave of healthy eating in the city, but is it so new? When talking and meeting folks the last few months, I have met many people of African descent who tell me of ancestral garden spots created out of small spaces of land available practically anywhere around their living areas. My feeling is that this practice was carried over, not just from slavery, but from Africa where our ancestors were known agriculturalists and land stewards. It only makes sense that when they were forced to work the white man’s land that they continued to find ways to grow their own crops, some of which they had introduced to the American fields (such as yams, okra, eggplant, and black eyed peas), to supplement the scraps that they received for meals. This practice was carried on for many years as people of African descent migrated into urban areas in search of opportunity.

I am reading a book written in 1933 by a man of African descent, Carter G. Woodson, called The Mis-Education of the Negro. He tells a story of significance to me when he says that most black people he knows had always known they could at least always scrape a living out of the soil. He talks about how folks knew they could feed their families, if not much else, if they had a little bit of land to work with. It seems we are centuries away from this sentiment in our society, though this was less than 100 years ago.

Despite the hundreds of years of cruel, forced labor upon the earth, there were thousands of years previous that link me to the land of my ancestors. Though most of the crops we grow would be unfamiliar to them, the responsibilities and tasks are the same and the care is immeasurable to the earth that sustains us. Early on this July 4th morning, as many Americans are still resting and dreaming about the day’s festivities to come, I think of my ancestors who were still enslaved at the brink of this “American independence.” And as I revel in my small 10×9 urban plot, which is larger I’m sure than most folks had back in the day, I look up and give thanks to all those who came before me and paved a way for me to love the earth as we should and care for her as she does us.