The Soul of Agriculture

By Uriah Yisrael

In 2008, I was directly affected by the Recession. For months I survived off of severance pay, unemployment benefits, and government assistance, the months became years and all hope and money faded. I then remembered a sharecropper’s words, “Everyone needs something to eat.” This sharecropper escaped the Jim Crow south and moved to the city of Boston, Massachusetts, where he continued to grow his beloved crops in a vacant lot next to his home. With neither news coverage or grant money, nor nonprofit status, he simultaneously worked three jobs to feed his family, as he nurtured an abandoned and trash filled lot into the envy of the neighborhood. Today he continues to feed his family, neighbors, and strangers from this inner-city plot in the hood. This sharecropper was the first urban farmer I ever met, this sharecropper is my father.

Like many African Americans, who fled the south in the 40s, 50s, and 60s, my parents worked the soil.  We were the cheap but skilled labor force brought to these shores to till the land, plant and harvest crops for 350 years without reward or pay day. Nonetheless, just like my father, the love of agriculture runs in the DNA. When African Americans migrated to Cleveland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Boston or wherever, urban farms and gardens sprang up. We are wired for survival and we grow.

As a child, my father explained how my grandmother magically canned and preserved their future with sweet fruit that fell from the tree. He demonstrated how they would look after the elderly and sick, tightly knitting community in the shadow of death. He talked of chickens, cows, cotton and collards that they grew and cherished. He talked of churning, spinning and sharing what seemed like scarce resources that would actually feed a family of 15. He explained how they prepared, survived and thrived during hard times.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers and writers fail to mention, seek to ignore and willfully hide the agricultural accomplishments, history and innovations of African American. It is unfortunate because these are true American heroes and success stories. Today it is time to remember record and write the truth and role of these dynamic individuals.

Also, it is time to return to the legacy of George Washington Carver, Booker T. Washington and our parents, who when the “money failed in Egypt,” they did not starve nor wait for help but fostered solutions and lived off the ever bountiful earth. Today it is time to reconnect and realign to the earth and regain the trade, skills and handicrafts that walk hand in hand with agriculture. It is time to remember that our parents survived the Great Depression because they had knowledge of agriculture and agronomy not because of the New Deal.  It is time to return to agriculture to honor the blood, sweat and tears of our fathers who labored under whip and oppression. With no “education” they understood the flora, fauna, and the seasons and had respect for the majesty of creation. It is time to return not for money, but to embrace the power to provide good food for our people, our nation and our planet.

Today is the day to return as the dressers and keepers of the garden.

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