Who is the REAL story?


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      by Kirtrina Baxter | 05/28/2014
      Philadelphia Community Green Space

      Pictured above are three of the founders Ms. Anita, Ms. Joanne, & Ms. Lisa, also a UTC farmer Quinzell, and another community gardener.

      Urban community farms that are part of garden-based organizations are still, and essentially the property of those communities in which they are placed. If I were in the black church that I grew up in right now, after making that statement, I would yell to the congregation, “can I say that again?, to which there would be numerous acclamations of “Amen!” In this sub-culture of urban gardening we are just as influenced as the rest of pop-culture in the iconography of organizational heads. In our efforts to “tell the story” of the gardens in which we work, through our conversations around town, and sometimes through media and social media projection, we still succumb to the societal syndrome of the “savior complex”; our need to praise one person for the “saving”, “empowerment” or “upliftment” of the community or in this case, the garden community.

      A few weeks ago I attended the Spring Kick-off event at Urban Tree Connection’s (UTC) Neighborhood Foods Farm, and had a wonderful time. It was a great event! Residents from the area came out along with many volunteers to join those dedicated community folks who have been helping the farm to prosper into the beautiful space it is today. As I sat talking to a few of the neighborhood women who have been instrumental in some of the UTC gardens, Ms. Lisa & Ms. Anita, who I had the pleasure of meeting some time before at a Founder’s meeting, I was struck by the impact this farm and the associated gardens of UTC has had on the lives of these women and their community. But just as much, I was struck by the impact these women had on the gardens in the communities in which they live.

      Philadelphia Urban Creators (PUC) was another farm I visited over the last few months. When I walked into their block party-slash- workday, slash-birthday celebration, it was all hands on deck! There were people everywhere engaged in all sorts of work from high tunnel preparation, to putting up a vertical growing wall, to fixing the drip irrigation to grilling food! There was clearly an order to what was happening but not in any way did I get the sense of “one” leader, but many dedicated folk who shared a vision of what was to get done that day.

      As I spoke with Devon, one of the young men who work on the farm, he explained to me that one of the greatest assets for him has been the diverse group of people who he has come to know through his input at the farm. He is a life-long resident of that community, and because of his skill in carpentry, he has taken the responsibility of building their compost bins, the very intricate aquaponics system and has had a hand in just about every addition to the farm that required building skills. Devon’s influence and input on the farm is unquestionable, though I have never heard his story.

      When hearing about PUC, I had not heard of Devon before, nor seen his name mentioned in any articles about the farm, and worse, what I tend to hear most in relation to this org, is that they are a Temple-based program in the community, which is far from the truth! Just the same, when I heard about UTC, it was not the story of the group of women who championed for gardens in their communities, it was not about Ms. Anita or Ms. Lisa, both of these women, who along with other key members in their communities, helped to establish the founding gardens of UTC.

      In Philadelphia, it is easy to lump all the gardens associated with a certain organization as the sole responsibility of one person. The problem with this is, if our view of that one person is tainted, it can influence our opinion of all the gardens they are associated with. This has large political and relational implications, especially in a world of non-profit collaboration. It is also very easy to hear about a garden-based organization and praise the work that it is doing in the community and altogether miss giving thought and/or praise to the key community folk whose dedication has and will help sustain these spaces.

      These key folk have been marginalized as “others” in our thinking and talking about garden collaborations, shared resources and preservation efforts, though they deserve to be considered in all of these areas as their contributions, commitment and dedication are what serves our communities. Theirs will be the life blood that sustains these gardens when leaders move on to other causes, projects or pursuits. And we should be thoughtful of them and the communities they serve as we move forward in this urban garden movement.

      Philadelphia Community Green Space
      Philadelphia Community Green Space
      Philadelphia Community Green Space

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