Growing and Growth Collective’s Holistic Approach to Urban Ag Centers in BIPOC Neighborhoods
The Partners Achieving Community Transformation backed Growing and Growth Collective sets out to improve health outcomes and heighten community engagement through social action in high-BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) neighborhoods by facilitating programming that is responsive, culturally-relevant and evidence-based.
Group volunteer Adrienne Williams has been growing in community garden spaces for over four years alongside her mother and aunt, for health purposes as well as a way to connect with her family.
Williams took the 10-week Ohio Master Urban Farmer Workshop series developed by OSU Extension, an Ohio State University program offering informal education opportunities.
The course teaches everything to know about agriculture, from soil science, to pollinators, all the way to how to start an urban agriculture operation for community gardening or small-scale farming in the urban core. This is also where Williams met another woman who expressed interest in creating a community garden of their own.
The two women decided to revive a defunct community garden they found on Greenway Avenue in the Woodland Park neighborhood last year. It was around that time that protests began in Central Ohio and around the country
“We felt like, ‘Okay, getting folks engaged in agriculture is great, but is there like another lens to it?’ And so that’s how the Growing and Growth Collective ended up being founded,” said Williams.
She said the group wanted to make sure they were intentional in their programming, messaging and mission, as well as how they engaged with the community.
“There’s the agriculture piece, but there’s definitely a socio-political component, there’s a historical component which we talk about a lot, especially as you think about BIPOC and our connection to land; it’s very nuanced,” said Williams. “And making sure that we are respectful of that legacy and that history and being intentional about talking about it.”
GGC has been raising funds for its work and programming at five Near East Side community gardens — Greenway, Hildreth, Mamie Mack, 21st and the Julialynne Walker Gateway Learning Garden at the King Arts Complex — through grants and individual donations.
Part of that programming includes Market-to-Kitchen Thursdays — in partnership with Bronzeville Growers Market, supported by the Maroon Arts Group and operated by GGC site leader Julialynne Walker — and weekly visits from the James Mobile Education Kitchen to the Hildreth site, lead by Jim Warner of the Wexner Medical Center’s Nutrition Services Department.
And recently, the group received funding for a high tunnel hoop house at the Mamie Mack garden, which will extend the growing season for the garden, which helps supply produce for the Bronzeville market, among other venues.
GGC’s funding also lowers the barrier to entry for growing by providing “starters” for the community to enhance food access and affordability.
Helping cultivate this work is an impressive list of core leaders and volunteers, including Autumn Glover, president of PACT; Julialynne Walker, director of the Bronzeville Growers Market & Agricademy; Tim McDermott, ag and natural resources educator at OSU Extension Franklin County; Jim Warner, program director, nutrition services, at The Ohio State University Medical Center; Victor Williams, president of The Douglas Foundation; Cassaundra Patterson, business manager for PACT; as well as community members Marjorie Jean-Baptiste, Williams and Jera Oliver.
Coming from Ohio State, Oliver has seen what community engagement can sometimes look like: An expert will come in and prescribe solutions based on a study or research, which can work, but there’s also another way, where a community is empowered toward collaborative solutions, without assuming to know the answer.
“It’s something we emphasize, that we do not come in with an answer,” said Oliver. “We’re coming in facilitating conversation and activity so that people can find their own answers.”
The group hosts community conversations and quarterly book chats surrounding Black and BIPOC farmers and agriculture, as well as discussing historic issues that directly impacted Black growers.
“What I’ve seen is a lot of folks, when we do have these conversations, they’re surprised the impacts of agriculture in our history and how it still shows up today,” said Williams.
The group has had discussions on 1619 — the podcast component of the New York Times’ 1619 Project — mainly around Black farmers. The 1999 class-action lawsuit Pigford v. Glickman in particular was a revelation for attendees, said Williams.
And this month, the group reads The Color of Law, which covers systematically imposed neighborhood segregation by federal, state and local governments across the U.S.
“A lot of these, I guess you could say, [are] factors that even impact Black growers, BIPOC growers today,” she said. “Most of that is impacted by redlining in some of the systemic ways in which Black and brown people were kept out of certain neighborhoods, and how that led to a lack of grocery access, a lack of space for growing, a lot of these things that have, as the saying is now, social determinants of health.”
Oliver aligns GGC’s mission with the City of Columbus’ effort last year to declare racism a public health crisis. Like one’s income, education level and neighborhood have an impact on one’s health outcomes, so do environmental injustices like underproductive soil, high lead content, poor infrastructure and pollution, rampant in those same neighborhoods.
That’s why the group is seeking out better health outcomes and an increase in civic engagement for BIPOC through urban agriculture. That, and the fostering of positive and empowering relationships between BIPOC and agriculture.
“Coming at it from a lens of empowerment, as opposed to prescription or direction, was really important to us,” Oliver said, noting that agriculture is historically in the DNA of Black Americans.
In all, Williams said the group hopes to galvanize people to think more critically about agriculture.
“We want to really take a holistic approach to say yes, agriculture and gardening is fun, but there’s definitely an aspect of it, where there is the political lens to it,” she said. “And so for us, it’s really important to have that conversation going because history informs the here and now and the future.”
This article has been updated to include information on Growing and Growth Collective programming and to correct the name of the New York Times’ 1619 Project (not 1916.)
For more information and volunteering opportunities, visit linktr.ee/growingandgrowthcollective.