A photo from the Carrie McCracken TRUCE Garden: “Marilyn Mosely explains the garden’s child-affirming Memorial Sunflower Project to a new neighbor. Though one of our community’s invisible structurally unemployed, she contributes many volunteer hours creating graphic work for the garden. Leaders are but stakes for the vines to begin their assent. The year is starting out tough; but we are climbing higher.” – Steven Kidd
By Milagros Gustafson-Hernandez
Steven Kidd is a gardener and community organizer in the food sovereignty movement in Harlem, NYC, and participated in Groundswell’s Farm Business Planning Course in 2012. Here he shares his story and his hopes for the future.
Steven became interested in farming in the late 70’s, when he moved from Harlem to Kentucky. There he met his ex father-in-law, a Louisiana native who grew vegetables for his family on a plot of land. When his father-in-law passed away, his children- including Steven’s ex-wife, disagreed about what to do with the land. His ex wife wanted to continue her father’s legacy of farming, but could not come up with the financing to purchase it. The other sibling sold the land for about 1/8 of what it was worth. Steven feels this is a prime example of the epidemic of black land loss in our country: how predatory financiers scoop up black-owned land at a fraction of its worth, leaving generations of black families landless and with fewer assets over generations.
Shortly after this incident left him shaken, Steven became determined to get involved with gardening. Some friends of his were growing peppers in their backyards and were jarring pepper sauces in their homes, where they had set up processing kitchens. Steven began looking for spots to garden in the city. A sign on the fence of a nearby vacant lot said it was being taken care of as a community gardening project, but no one was really tending to the garden, and it was locked and inaccessible. So Steven had to travel quite a distance to another community to do his gardening. He felt the commute was unnecessary if there was a spot near his home that could be used. He contacted the City and they eventually provided him with a key to the garden near his home.
This garden became the Carrie McCracken TRUCE Community Garden in Harlem, NY, a garden which “striv[es] for a green and welcoming space offering horticultural, educational, and cultural activities.” This is the garden with which Steven spends most of his time now. Having a space to garden– to grow plants as well as community — was monumental. But Steven felt he needed more education and training.
Under the Giuliani era (1994-2001), many community gardens in NYC were sold to private entities, an issue that sparked a long and heated battle beween the Mayor, NYS Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, and community gardeners throughout the City. Finally in 2002, with the help of administrators and community members, community garden lands were transferred to the Parks Department for administration. This legal change made it more difficult for the property to be sold or taken away because it falls under the category of recreational park land. This was a big victory for city gardeners and the fight for the right to grow food nationwide, and also was a milestone in Steven’s personal goal to bring about lasting and meaningful social change.
Steven came across Groundswell while searching for farmer training in his region. In 2012, through Groundswell’s Farm Business Planning Course, he gained skills in business planning and marketing. Steven believes that the need for farmer training is only growing, and more resources are needed to fill this demand. “There are thousands of African Americans that are interested in growing their own food or exploring the possibilities of being farmers. I’m personally aware of at least 50 families that are interested in growing their own food and I truly believe that it is bringing people together.”
When asked what the biggest thing he got from Groundswell, Steven says “Hope.” He is adamant that we, as a nation, must address environmental issues without exploiting others, and feels inspired that Groundswell is trying to do just that. He says his passion is renewed by seeing people who are working for change every day. “There’s a big movement to go green right now. The biggest problem is apathy; many people just can’t see or don’t care that there’s a problem,” he says. As someone who has experienced firsthand being excluded from opportunities in his quest for knowledge and learning, Steven also feels that it’s hard to find a place “where people are open to you – where you are not treated like an outsider.”
“Groundswell does not put limitations on you. They have you think critically. They give you the opportunity to think things through and give you the information and training to figure it out for yourself,” he says.
Steven is currently exploring an apprenticeship model to becoming a farm owner, and maintaining active farmland in a sustainable manner. Currently, people from his organization are taking classes with Hawthorne Valley Farm in the Hudson Valley, which is closer to New York City. Hawthorne Valley now provides one meeting a month in NYC. In the future, Steven would like to participate in a plant sale for city gardeners sponsored by the City of New York. In addition, he’d like to set up a company that brokers small farmers and urban entrepreneurs.
We at Groundswell are inspired to hear about Steven’s work for food sovereignty in the City and hope to hear more in the days to come.
To learn more about the Carrie McCracken TRUCE garden, visit harlemgarden.org.