Food, Community and Togetherness
PositiveVines delves into the realms of wine and agriculture within the global ecosystem. In late October, I immersed myself in the inspiring tapestry of sustainable farming, a profound connection with nature, and a shared commitment to positive change within underserved communities at the 11th Annual Black Farmers + Urban Gardeners National Conference (BUGS).
Visiting Philadelphia proved to be an immersive journey into community spirit. A diverse array of attendees hailing from the U.S., London, Jamaica, and beyond, representing the African Diaspora, made for a truly humbling experience. The wealth of knowledge shared on topics like land sovereignty and community nourishment was remarkable. The gardeners’ dedication to promoting healthy living was evident, with a central emphasis on fostering self-sufficiency in communities through the cultivation of accessible and affordable food.
To see Philadelphia, one thinks of the Liberty Bell, Ben Franklin, the bombing of families of the MOVE movement and the ever-constant narrative of urban blight. But look closer and you see a community reclaiming the land through urban gardens that feed communities all too often overlooked by city planners.
Despite the swift gentrification unfolding in North Philadelphia, driven by the interest of developers and universities, the city stands as a vibrant and interconnected community. Collaboratively with New Jersey, efforts are underway to re-establish urban farms and community gardens. The overarching objective is to forge partnerships with city leaders and health professionals, aiming to foster community sustainability, generate employment opportunities, and reshape unhealthy living habits.
Assembled to address the significant challenge of over 40,000 vacant land parcels in Philadelphia and countless more in urban and rural areas globally, conference participants convened to exchange insights on optimal cultivation practices, community nourishment strategies, reclaiming and preserving land, and implementing initiatives to enhance the well-being of Black and Brown communities.
In its 11th year, the visionary co-founders Karen Washington, Suzanne Babb, Regina Ginyard, and Lorrie Clevenger have once again orchestrated an invigorating conference. With a heartfelt mission to nurture ‘the empowerment and resilience of Black agriculture worldwide,’ this three-day gathering provided an intimate glimpse into active farms and the vital work of urban garden leaders who are not only feeding communities but also imparting wisdom. The event was a convergence of minds, featuring illustrious speakers and hands-on workshops, fostering an environment ripe for collaboration. It offered a unique platform for networking, connecting participants across the diaspora and regions, and sowing seeds for future growth and unity in the field of sustainable agriculture.
Day one of the conference presented a journey of possibilities through four innovative agricultural models in Philadelphia and the nearby FreeHaven Farms in New Jersey. Participants were treated to an immersive experience at the vibrant Life Do Grow farm, the cultural oasis of Norris Square Neighborhood Gardens, the nurturing grounds of Sankofa Community Farm, and the holistic FreeHaven Farms. The day offered a comprehensive education in sustainable practices and provided nourishing fare that delighted both palate and soul. The evening culminated in a vibrant chef-led culinary contest, showcasing ingredients introduced to the Americas by enslaved Africans, accompanied by the resonant rhythms of soulful music. Local Philadelphia vendors also took the spotlight, presenting a bustling market that beautifully illustrated the city’s rich, symbiotic community.
Day 2 was particularly illuminating as keynote speakers—Michael Twitty, a culinary historian who stitches together narratives of food and memory; Gabrielle Eitienne, a cultural preservationist whose passion preserves the vibrant echoes of ancestral tables; and Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, a voice of modern intellectualism and a son of Philadelphia—wove stories of the origins of our sustenance, the deep-seated richness of the diaspora’s culinary arts, and the empowering act of reclaiming land. The day’s agenda was brimming with workshops that dove into the integration of technology in agriculture, the intricacies of obtaining USDA certifications and funding, and innovative growing techniques—tools for the modern harvester. As the sun dipped below the horizon, the One Art Community Center became a microcosm of celebration. Here, the generational tapestry danced together, young feet learning the rhythms of tradition, while their elders’ steps bore the weight of history, all moving to the beat with equal zest, under the evening’s indulgent gaze.
The conference wrapped up on Day 3 with a serious discussion on the past and the path forward for Black Farmers and the reclamation of land. Conference participants then grouped regionally to continue discussions and make plans for collaborative future work.
As we embrace the start of the new year, look for more articles, podcasts and links to events that move communities forward in reclaiming land and providing healthy nutrients.
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