By Naomi Davis, Blacks In Green (BIG), Chicago, Illinois
Autumn is harvest time—even in the big city of Chicago. The West Woodlawn neighborhood on the south side of Chicago has a rich history that includes a farming heritage and inter-generational backyard gardening brought by the Great Migration of six million predominantly African Americans from the south to northern cities.
Building on this heritage, BIG kicked-off “The Year of the Backyard Garden” to plant several gardens and address some of the challenges in the neighbourhood such as lack of access to food and the need for more green space to reduce basement flooding from rain events. I must share a little of my history— a granddaughter of Mississippi sharecroppers and my Mom was a master gardener. Unfortunately, at one time I had no talent for growing plants….BUT we can all change and improve. I am proof that we must learn to grow our own—including a new generation of growers.
Using $20,000 in donated plants, a grant from Freshwater Future, and much donated labor and expertise, we planted gardens and even built a chicken coop. We are teaching apartment building owners how to install gardens, engage tenants, and slowly begin recycling and composting along the way to producing fresh food on site. Yes, it’s tough, slow work, but satisfying. Neighbors now know how to harvest fresh food and can do so at any time.
Not only is growing the food important, it is helping our neighborhood in so many ways: absorbing rain, making it more beautiful, and getting us to talk to our neighbors. This year we celebrate the backyard garden where lovers stroll through by moonlight, children on their knees look at plants and labels up close, and the birds and bees do their thang.And in 2014, we celebrate the year of the TREE.
Naomi Davis is the Executive Director of BIG. BIG aims to build the local living economy by reducing poverty, pollution, and increasing community member engagement in Chicago.