The definition of heritage according to Merriam Webster is something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor. Each of us has something that has been passed down. Our culture embraces our heritage by language and even mannerisms. The foods we eat are part of our culture. The way we garden can be determined by our cultural differences.
African American heritage in the garden is very special to me. What we grow and why we grow is important. How we use what we grow is part of our culture. Plant and food crops have always played a role in our heritage. This is not just an African American practice. It is a cultural practice embraced by many ethnic groups.
February brought a few events to my attention that focused on African American history and heritage. The first was a presentation at Hillwood Museum, Home and Gardens on Villa Lewaro. Presented by A’Lelia Bundles, the history of this magnificent home was not just a story. This story is part of her heritage. Sharing the story of the success of Madam C.J. Walker – her struggles, success, and legacy – was truly music to my ears. Having visited the grounds of this magnificent estate, it was a delight to hear details about this successful woman. I must say, MadamWalker chose the right spot for a view of the Hudson River from above.
Villa Lewaro is not open to the public and is currently under renovation. Plans are for Villa Lewaro to be a Think Tank for Women of Color. I am sure Madame C.J. Walker is proud to have her estate become a part of the African American story.
NEW BLACK FARMERS MOVEMENT
February is traditionally known as African American history month. A month where we celebrate our history and heritage. There are several local voices that celebrate African American heritage on urban farms. Some farms found in the most unexpected places, feeding the heart of the farmers who touch the land.
Growing and eating from the land has been a longstanding practice in many cultures. It is directly in alignment with the heritage of many African Americans. The hand to the land connection via farming truly reflects our heritage. African American heritage is rooted in the earth.
Attending an event sponsored by the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association (MOFFA) was delightful. This winter meeting was one of the highlights of February. Moderated by Doug Adams, New Brooklyn Farms, the discussion on “The New Black Farmer” was a needed conversation.
It was refreshing to hear Atiya Wells describe her story. She preferred to consider her journey as one of a “Returning Generation Farmer”. Historically, African American farmers have had difficulty holding onto our land. Migration removed us from the land or we simply lost interest in connecting with our history and heritage.
Atiya is working in the community to teach others how to reconnect to the land. Backyard Basecamp located in Baltimore, Maryland teaches the importance of being outdoors. As Director of Bliss Meadows, Atiya is on a mission as she raises her family. Atiya is leading an effort to preserve 10 acres of land to connect People of Color to their agricultural heritage.
Heritage played a role in why Ann Livingston became an organic farmer. Owner of DeepRoot Farm, LLC. Ann’s Guyanese roots recognized the need of finding familiar cultural foods. From Long Beans, Malabar Spinach, Red Roselle and Bitter Melons, Ann is an Organic Farmer. Growing these food crops has enabled Ann to grow and expand her farm. Deep Roots is currently in the final phase of purchasing a second location. This will enable her to offer more Organic food options. Who knew that there was a way to acquire land utilizing a government program for Minority Women Farmers.
John Manirakiza sees a need and is working on growing a solution. Some might know John as one of the area’s leaders in growing specialty crops from West Africa. John manages the Ethnic Crop Research program at the University of the District of Columbia. Helping the local West African immigrant community find foods that reflect their heritage is a beautiful thing. John is currently working on an app – @ojaexpress. This app will deliver ethnic groceries via an online platform. What a unique way to respect one’s heritage. Staying connected with identifiable cultural roots.
Michelle Nelson is the living definition of Agriculture Policy Change Maker in the Washington Metropolitan area. A strong voice in changing the way urban agriculture exists in the DMV, Michelle is a busy young woman. She is the Urban Agriculture Youth Program Leader for After-School-Allstars in Washington, DC. and the Community Garden Program Manager in Maryland.
Michelle encourages others to seek help, attend workshops, and inquire about Urban Agriculture offerings. We can just call her “Connector”. Michelle understands how our heritage plays a role in connecting heritage and identity. Each of these powerful voices was well-received by all attendees. This was a day of information and inspiration.
Do you consider your heritage in the garden? Is it all about food or is it about visual beauty as well? Are you growing plants that are culturally familiar?
Dreaming of Celosia, Hydrangeas, and Marigolds…all part of my personal heritage.
Teri, Cottage In The Court