If We Don’t go Back to the Farm, We Have to Bring the Farm to Us!

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This is a picture of my grandfather and great grandmother. His name was Jack, and I remember him as a sharp, cunning old business man and Lord Commander of his five sons.

His story went like this. About 10 years after that photo was taken on an Orangeburg South Carolina farm, he hitched a ride to Philadelphia. This was in the 20’s. He was going it alone, escaping from behind enemy lines ruled by Jim Crow and the KKK. His story could have easily ended with a rope and a tree along Rt One. It didn’t.

He came to Philadelphia. Became a longshoreman. Married Anna Mae Combs. Got into a knife fight on the docks. Didn’t go back. Then he bought a junk truck from a Jewish man that he worked for. (I don’t know why it is important that he was Jewish, but whenever anyone tells the story, that’s how they tell it.)

Then he collected junk. Then he bought a bigger truck and he and his sons began hauling gravel. Money was made. A lot of money. His sons branched off on their own. Sometimes they returned to his business, sometimes they didn’t.

By the time I came along, he spent most of his time ruling his empire from a perch upon the bed of a Toyota 4×4; the kind Marty McFly drove in Back to the Future.

He had created a life for himself about 800 miles away from that farm. One that had almost nothing in common with his upbringing, accept for about 1/4 acre of land that his wife had, just outside of their kitchen window. They didn’t leave the farm. They bought it with them in their hip pockets. And there it was, growing up amongst nine guard dogs and about seven trucks.

Still, I didn’t get it. To me, women gardened. Men worked. I saw her out there, tending tomatoes and okra. I ate the vegetables, and even then, before the proliferation of GMO pseudo veggies, her crops were sweeter and juicier than anything that could be bought at ACME supermarket. But beyond her gardens, the men struggled beneath the hulking trucks. They risked their lives with equipment that was measured in tons, not pounds. The got dirty and cursed, always walking the line between arguing and coming to blows. And as soon as I was old enough my father brought me out there with him. Every Saturday. Men’s work.

Funny how we come full circle. My grandparents knew how to grow things. Tomatoes. Businesses. Somehow I came to believe that they were distinctly different. They weren’t. They were two sides of the same coin. They were both essential to how they viewed survival.

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This guy gets it. His name is Ron Finley and he lives in South Central. I don’t know how his folk got there, but I suspect, somewhere along the line, there was a Jack in his family, who risked his life for something better, away from the dark ages that cloaked the South.

Ron saw the affects that lousy food were having on his community; a food desert, where fast food and alcohol are far more accessible than healthy, unaltered, vegetables and fruits.  Everybody knows that South Central is dangerous place. People assume it’s because of violence. But the affects of poor nutrition were far more lethal than the drive-by’s.

My Grandfather would have liked Ron. He planted food along medians and in vacant lots and in a lot of other places. Places that, generally, exist far below the give a damn, radar. And folks suddenly began giving a damn. They wanted him to stop. They would rather see weeds than plants.

Do you think they stopped him? Really?!

When I talk about gardening, it doesn’t come from a vacuum. Black folk have had a long relationship with the land, and I’m not just talking about slavery. There were a whole lot of people like Anna Mae and Jack Glover, who worked the land out of choice, and with absolutely no shame. They were showing us the way. It’s time for us to take the hint. Our lives depend on it.

I’ve written about gardening before; specifically hydroponics. You can see it here and here.

11 thoughts on “If We Don’t go Back to the Farm, We Have to Bring the Farm to Us!

  1. I’ve experimented with gardening over the years, but this is the first time I’ve ever been able to hop into my little backyard garden and gather basil, mint, rosemary and the best part – tomatoes for dinner. It makes me think back to my grandparents and my PaPa’s huge garden. He could grow a sweet potato bigger than a person’s foot. They stored them in a root cellar (which used to freak me out) and had shelves of home canned goods in the basement. I wasn’t very impressed with it then, but now it makes my eyes water to think about it. I still think of them every time I smell eggs and bacon cooking, or green beans and new potatoes. Funny how our senses are so intertwined with our memories. My grandparents came from a time of hardship and worry that my spoiled (and thankful) behind can’t even imagine. I hope to continue to learn more about gardening, and I love to share it with my girls. Thanks for the reflective post.

    • Thanks mama. My grandmother kept a huge supply of canned goods beneath the beds upstairs. All of those things that they knew, and my generation forgot because it all seemed so quaint and out of style. All of it is becoming essential again. I was so focused on my grandfather’s business that I missed out on their garden, which was equally important.

  2. In our city many people are starting urban gardens and connecting with one another. We just need to keep on spreading the word….yes, we all have people in our families that passed on that “gardening gene”–anna mae + Jack glovers…love for wholesome food..they did not live on acreage, they had to live near jobs…growing food was something everyone did…not a movement, a way of life…In our town, you can see some of the old fruit trees, berry bushes etc..that were planted MANY years ago right on the property! The people worked in factories, but still wanted fresh food out their backdoor–the kind their ancestors grew on the farm….way back…or took with them to the city….My husband and I are from the Chicago area and all our families had food growing on their lot, next to their lot or on the vacant lot no one was using-lol…
    Once you get your hands in the dirt and taste the difference, it never leaves you..no matter where you live..great post-enjoyed reading…

    • Thanks for your comment Robbie. I loved reading it. I thought my grandparents were quaint for having that little garden, even though I loved the vegetables. I didn’t recognize it as a life skill. I’m glad to see gardening starting to be seen as more of a way of life than a hobby.

      • I know, I never understood it growing up either, but they did it for a reason. They knew it was good for them, and It does taste better! We started growing ( more food than just typical tomatoes) on our lot in the city because we could not pay the prices they want for “organic” food. Then we learned you can grow 3 season/4 some places year round. Why do you need to purchase greens from the store. You don’ t need much space. Even our local farmer market is getting expensive, so we just started tearing up the lawn and maybe this will become a way of life for everyone!

    • It’s weird how urban gardening is being presented as a new thing. I remember when I was a child. We were driving through Greenville South Carolina. It seemed like every one of those little city bungalows had a little farm behind it, sometimes with livestock. I’m glad you are working on your roots, so to speak. I fear the gardening gene skipped my generation, but I am going to make it work.

  3. Thanks for your comment Robbie. I loved reading it. I thought my grandparents were quaint for having that little garden, even though I loved the vegetables. I didn’t recognize it as a life skill. I’m glad to see gardening starting to be seen as more of a way of life than a hobby.

    • I know, I never understood it growing up either, but they did it for a reason. They knew it was good for them, and It does taste better! We started growing ( more food than just typical tomatoes) on our lot in the city because we could not pay the prices they want for “organic” food. Then we learned you can grow 3 season/4 some places year round. Why do you need to purchase greens from the store. You don’ t need much space. Even our local farmer market is getting expensive, so we just started tearing up the lawn and maybe this will become a way of life for everyone!

  4. I know, I never understood it growing up either, but they did it for a reason. They knew it was good for them, and It does taste better! We started growing ( more food than just typical tomatoes) on our lot in the city because we could not pay the prices they want for “organic” food. Then we learned you can grow 3 season/4 some places year round. Why do you need to purchase greens from the store. You don’ t need much space. Even our local farmer market is getting expensive, so we just started tearing up the lawn and maybe this will become a way of life for everyone!