Growing Communities, From the Ground Up

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by Yonnette Fleming

Long before I created the Hattie Carthan Urban Agriculture Corps, the youths that hunger for self-knowledge, intuition, good food, nurturance, acknowledgement and wisdom, graced my nightly prayers.

As a woman farmer of color, it was clear to me that some of us had to take the initiative to begin working with our youth to heal the rift. I also began to think about what it means to be charged with an inevitable “green” future that one was not given the skills required to function within.

And so, without further need for case or cause, I found the courage to create the space in my work as a farmer/social change agent to help the youths of Bedford-Stuyvesant to understand themselves as the offspring of land people being blessed with the genetics and intelligence to co- partner, not dominate the Earth.

Indeed, black people are first and foremost people of the land, farmers, herders, medicine people, etc., not necessarily the images presented by the mainstream media which often reflects a white archetype as farmers and land stewards – but this is no easy task in a society that thrives on oppressing and miseducating its members.

Today, we live as a people disconnected from our own history and the contributions of our African ancestors to the world, with remnant pathologies from our slave past masquerading as truths and contributing to oppressive stereotypes and understandings of who we are as a people.

Working with the youths of our village has given me hope each time we meet in the garden or on the farm, we gain a fresh understanding and respect for ourselves, our seniors, our ancestors and community.

We remember and honor the hands and hearts of all people that have brought us to this juncture of our evolution and gain an appreciation for all things natural.

We recognize that we are the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe therefore it is critical that we take responsibility around those natural resources.

We understand that we have a responsibility to maintain our relationships, not just to humans but to the plants and animals that provide our food.

We also understand that no people should be displaced from their indigenous or ancestral lands and left without the ability to feed themselves and realize that growing and distributing food is really about community participation and deep responsibility.

Our children are waking up to the truth as they experience natural health and nurturing community. Our youth can liberate themselves if we give them the tools needed to care for themselves, the community and their environment.

Note: Yonnette Fleming, who oversees the Hattie Carthan Community Garden, is the foremost “green” leader of record in North Bed-Stuy, where the ecology awareness movement has caught on largely due to her   her singular vision, outreach and programs.      BG