Happy Black History Month!
As both the Marketing & Communications Coordinator and a Black woman who has lived around Southwest and West Philly her entire life, I’ve been thinking deeply about the ways I wanted to spotlight current and past Black excellence on Bartram’s social media. I feel somewhat caught between resenting the ways that our history is pushed way off the margins of history books and confined to a singular month, and also being the type of person who looks for any reason to uplift and celebrate.
Since starting this job in October, I’ve been thinking more about the concept of Black diasporic social agency and healing through the land, particularly in the context of Bartram’s Garden, a historical site that was established on colonized Lenape land by a man who benefitted from the labor of the enslaved, and that now exists in the middle of Southwest Philadelphia, a primarily Black area, complete with Sankofa Community Farm. I became more deeply connected to this experience as a child when my mom introduced herself and my family to the world of urban farming, gardening, and green spaces as ways to treat the physical and mental stress that systemic oppression puts on our bodies.
So, I decided that this month, I wanted to dedicate more space to spotlighting the past and present of Black land stewardship—stories of the deep-rooted history of Black people in the United States loving and connecting to land that they were once forced to toil over, and the ways that we heal with it. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the luck of hearing about the work that my colleagues and others are doing to uncover this history and to keep it going. I’m excited to share their work!
I’d like to end this post with some words from Ashley Gripper, whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting briefly during her time working at Sankofa Community Farm. Ashley is the co-founder of Land-Based Jawns, an organization that provides education and training to Black women and non-binary folk on food sovereignty, natural agriculture, and community as guided in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower series. She is an activist-scholar and is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in Environmental Epidemiology at Harvard. She describes her work as at “the intersections of food, agriculture, spirituality, healing, environmental justice, and Black liberation”. She has dedicated almost a decade of her life to activism in food justice and land justice movements and is also a powerful writer.
In her article on Environmental Health News, titled “We don’t farm because it’s trendy; we farm as resistance, for healing and sovereignty”, she describes not only her own life experiences as a Black woman who has worked and found healing in agriculture but also the history of our deep relationship with the land and growing our own food, beyond just establishing sovereignty, caring for our communities and surviving under white supremacy.
“What I learned is that farming is not new to Black people. While some dominant modern narratives talk about urban agriculture as an innovative way to build community and fight food insecurity, Black folks in this country have been growing food in cities for as long as they have lived in cities. Before that, our ancestors lived in deep relationship with the land. For the first time in my 22 years, I understood that growing food is a tool for dismantling systemic oppression. I also realized that Black academics have a critical role to play in agricultural resistance and freedom movements, and it was in this moment that I decided to apply for graduate programs…
Despite migration patterns from the South to the North and Midwest, many Black urban communities have kept in touch with their agricultural roots, establishing farms and gardens throughout the United States. Black people have ancestral ties to this land—to caring for it, nurturing it, loving it, and allowing it to heal our communities and us—and we have faced immeasurable discriminatory practices and policies as we sought to reclaim and live in relationship with the land. We must not forget this history as we engage Black agricultural communities in our research endeavors.”
You can read the rest of this essay, which is a part of the “Agents of Change” series here.
Ashley was also kind enough to share a list of related resources with me, and I’d like to pass them along here as well.
- Grid Philly – The Blacker the Berry: Free the Land
- She hid seeds in her hair: The power of ancestral African Foods (featuring Chris Bolden-Newsome, Sankofa Community Farm co-founder and Chef Laquanda Dobson)
- Black-owned farms and gardens: Agriculture as Activism, Community, and Healing
- Black Farming: Food Justice and Land Stewardship
- Black Farmer Justice: Past, Present, and Future
Recent archival research by historian Sharece Blakney reveals that the Bartram family engaged in the enslavement of Africans and people of African descent at multiple moments in history through the 18th and 19th century. This research is ongoing. Click here to read more.