There is something very honest about a garden. When you stand in a garden and look at the fruits thriving all around you, know that you are witnessing the fruits of labor. Soil had to be turned. Seeds had to be buried. Weeds had to be pulled. A garden only reflects the work that is being put into it. It doesn’t cheat or misrepresent itself.
A couple of weeks ago, environmental nonprofit GrowNYC, in partnership with TBS, NYC Parks and Councilman Robert Cornegy, renovated the Hattie Carthan Community Garden. The garden was founded by Hattie Carthan, a pioneering environmentalist known for replenishing the Borough of Brooklyn in the 70’s with Magnolia trees. The renovated garden now boasts dozens of new garden beds, new benches and a wonderful new mural featuring Mama Hattie herself. To introduce the renovations, TBS bought the star of its show The Last OG, Tracy Morgan, back to his hometown to present the garden back to the community.
Tracy Morgan is a globally recognized star. But, unlike the pretentious nature of Hollywood, Tracy Morgan is honest, like a garden. He was raised on these same streets, a product of the Tompkins Projects. He can remember walking past the garden: “I never came in here, but I walked up and down these streets my whole life. I was born in raised in Brooklyn, Tompkins Projects. So, I would see in here, and I’d look inside. Now, I’m in here being a part of it. Plus, this is my roots. Look at all of the plants in here. They got roots. So, I wanted to plant something in here, because I got roots in Brooklyn. Hattie and Mae Miller. These are women from our community. I’m so glad they are with us. I know they are here right now. I’m glad to be a part of this. It means a lot to me.”
The event included food prepared by James Beard-nominated Chef JJ, and stations set up by Feeding America and City Harvest, where people in attendance could gather fruits and vegetables that will be distributed to people in need. The garden was decorated with marketing for “The Last OG,” a show that Tracy says is “about Brooklyn and for Brooklyn.” People in the community got a chance to see not only the potential of the garden, but they got to see one of their own reaching back to the community that raised him. And Tracy thinks that this is something that every child should learn as a requirement of success. “Give back. I don’t care where you go around the world, give back. That’s what I want young kids to know. Give back to your own community. Give back. Show your face. I’m here. So, we are bringing more than planting the flowers, but we are also giving hope to the young people in the community. That’s what Mark Breland did for me. That’s what Maurice Stanford did for me. That’s what Londell McMillan did for me. So, I show my face. If you can’t show love here where you were born and raised, then it ain’t real.”
The Hattie Carthan Community Garden services the neighborhood in a variety of ways; from providing two seasonal farmers’ markets to providing an educational space for children to learn more about farming, to offering areas for people from the community to plant their own herbs and food. Community residents can both learn about how to farm and grow food, and they can buy organic nutrient-dense food from the market. Tracy believes that gardens such as this should be a staple in all urban communities, but he worries that residents who most need programs like this won’t soon be able to afford to live around the garden. “That’s why this garden is important. People have been here forever and now they are being displaced. That’s the downside of gentrification, displacing people who have been here. I don’t like that. I mean, I appreciate the community growing and flourishing but I don’t like people having to be forced out of their homes. Families have been born and raised here. You can’t just displace them.”
Connecting a star like Tracy Morgan to a community garden is a great visual for children to see, it’s a connection between the earth and what they see on television, proof that you can be good at what you do and care about where you are from. And that was really the best part of the day, seeing the children react to having a star in their neighborhood. For Tracy though, doing the right thing is still about pleasing the woman that raised him. “My grandmother would be proud of me right now.” That’s an honest statement for any Black man that grew up the way we did in Bed-Stuy. We all want our grandmothers to be proud of us.