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How a Neglected Plot of Land in Chicago Became Part of a Growing Urban Garden Movement

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“We plant tons of food, but we grow people—and that’s the most long-lasting crop.”

By Omnia Saed
Feb 18, 2022


“The garden was my safe zone, and we make and create these safe zones because that’s what folks need,” says Evans. Over time, he developed a relationship with the land—to weeding and tending the soil—which grew into a profound passion. When he suffered a gunshot wound to the head at the age 19, it was farming that got him through it by providing him an outlet during a turbulent time. His lineage, which traces back to parts of Mississippi before the Great Migration, instilled in him a persistent, lifelong calling to better understand the intricacies of farming. Something about the way he felt seeing that plot across the street all those years ago, growing food and feeding the neighborhood, ignited an innate curiosity.

“Give us opportunity, give us land, and give us resources,” says New York City-based community organizer and food justice activist Karen Washington. “I don’t want a handout, I want a hand-in.” Washington is the co-founder of Black Urban Growers (BUGS), an organization that builds community among Black farmers and gardeners.

“When COVID was starting, the first thing that the city wanted to do was close the gardens,” says Washington, explaining that New York City was scrambling for ways to save money amid growing budgetary concerns. But for Washington and other members of her Bronx community, that was a shortsighted perspective. “You’re asking us to close the gardens in communities that are being impacted and harmed by COVID the most, [when] people are standing in line trying to get fresh produce? Hell no.”

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