Jun 21, 2020

The Blood, Dirt, Seeds, and Racism in my Garden

I stand at the kitchen window watching the sunlight gleaming through the white linens on the neighbour's clothesline. I am filling pastry shells with cinnamon-spiced apples, and I am thinking of my grandparents. My grandma had a long clothesline that stretched out past her rose garden. I wasn't permitted to fuss with it, but she let me run through the rest of the property without supervision. I preferred the company of the fruit trees in the small orchard, but sometimes I'd sit beneath the huge willow that guarded the tool shed (unless it was windy - that's when the caterpillars started dropping on you).

I didn't care much for her roses, (I would mourn the loss of them later, though.) I preferred the things growing in the vegetable garden. Grandma taught me about weeding and spacing and I taught myself which plants seemed to enjoy each other's company more, and how much sun they preferred, and what time of day they liked to be watered. I think she might have been pleased with my growing efforts this year. There is some wildness tumbling out of my beds, because I like the way plants will crawl over any barrier and I hate to prune them into submission. But the gardens look healthy, and I've already been stuffing myself with three varieties of lettuces and two kinds of peas, plus herbs and berries, for a few weeks now.

My grandfather was racist. I loved him more than I could ever say, and I never heard him speak a bad word about anyone. He helped his neighbours, volunteered, loved his family, and sang to the 'old folks' at the local retirement homes long into his 90's. But once I was old enough to start dating, my father warned me not to mention a beau to my grandfather if the boy was anything other than white. I was shocked. The family never talked about it.

Not talking about racism is how people end up being complicit in a system that oppresses Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples. Like so many others, I've spent the last weeks in deep conversation with myself, my friends, parents, and nieces. I want to understand where I am causing harm, and how I have participated in societal 'norms' that kept People of Colour from being treated as equals in our communities, societies, the world. I am listening, reading, donating, making lists of Black-owned companies to give my business to, and these will never be finished tasks checked off a list. This work doesn't end. More importantly, it will never be enough. But I hope in the years I have left, to leave a much better trail behind me than those who came before me.

I am passionate about being able to feed and care for those I love, and my greater community, by growing food and medicine. This adoration for earth and seeds and green life was a direct result of growing up in close relationship with my grandparents. I've been privileged to have access to places to garden. I've had multiple beds on a good stretch of land to play with, but I've also managed to grow an impressive amount of food out of a dozen or so pots on a small patio outside a rental unit. I believe we can grow food almost anywhere.

Black gardeners and farmers have long been at a disadvantage. They were, and are, priced out of land ownership and refused for mortgages that white people of the same means were approved for. They are routinely forgotten or passed over when it comes to subsidies, operating farm loans, and benefits. It is long past time that gardeners, herbalists, and farmers of Colour are given the tools and means to feed and care for their families and communities, and make a sustainable living on their land. 

If you would like to support BIPOC gardeners and farmers, here are some places that are making a difference:

I cannot erase my grandfather's racism. But I can take the best of him and walk forward with the dirt under my nails, my choices, and my income, and do the work to support a better future than he could have imagined.


Moonroot said...

Thank you for your beautifully articulated thoughts. I love how you have interwoven the personal and the political, and I especially love your words in the last paragraph.

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Canada is as steeped in racism as the USA, Europe, Australia, and everywhere else.

Rue said...

So true, Debra. In my area it is primarily focused at Indigenous people and eastern Asian/Indian immigrants. But it’s horrid no matter who is the focus. We must do better.

Rommy said...

That's all we can do sometimes. Take the best of what we were given, compost the rest, and be diligent about what we plant in our own garden so that good can grow.

Rose said...

Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing that story.

Magaly Guerrero said...

I, too, dislike pruning growing things into submission--the act just feels unnatural.

And on the bit about racism and battling the damage, I agree with your closing and echo Rommy's thoughts. The best we can do is acknowledge, learn, and cultivate ways that allow us to grow together.

Sharon said...

Thank you so much for the package, Jen. I am preparing a little something for you, letting you know what I've been up to these past months. With the outbreak, I'm not sure how long it will take the package to travel from the US post office into Canada.

Sharon said...

Jen, I sent off your package this morning. The postal clerk felt the need to tell me that "it may take anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months to reach her. They have sealed the borders again." I informed said clerk this is not what my Canadian friend told me. She said that people can travel, but they have to stay in quarantine for 2 weeks. So anyway, I hope that the package reaches you before too long.

Rue said...

Hi Sharon! That’s so kind. No worries about the mail. It has been crossing the borders just fine but there have been delays as they keep up with their disinfecting at the warehouses, etc. Have a lovely rest of your summer!