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From Slavery to Sharecropping to Solutions (Part 2 of 2)

by Sean Croxton

Click HERE for Part 1.

It went well.

Last Saturday, I had the privilege of presenting at the Black Male Empowerment Summit at Georgia Southern University (GSU). In the hours leading up to the first of my two talks, I wondered if these young men (and a few women) would even be interested in listening to me babble about holistic health and wellness for an hour. Turns out they were.

They raised their hands and asked great questions.

They shared their own experiences.

They expressed their frustrations with the limited access to healthy food.

These young people really cared.

Despite their interest in the topic, I wondered if I had really made an impact — would any of my attendees actually put the information to use?

Then this week, while I read Will Allen’s book The Good Food Revolution for the second time, I came across a passage regarding a recent study of one hundred sixth-graders who had participated in a hands-on, garden-based nutrition education program. Allen writes,

“(These students were compared) with two other groups: students who were taught nutrition lessons in a classroom and those who were given no nutrition education at all. The researchers found no significant difference a year later in the vegetable and fruit consumption of children without nutrition education and those who received nutrition classes. The students who received hands-on training in a garden, however, increased their fruit and vegetable intake by more than two servings a day.” (Allen, 160-161)

No, I don’t typically work with sixth-graders (then again, maybe I should), but I can’t help but wonder…

Does the power of the real food message reside in the information alone, or is the most powerful impact sparked by a real life physical connection with the soil and where our food comes from?

Is spending a day on a farm infinitely times more transformative than reading a book or a blog?

Will Allen seems to think so, and I tend to agree with him. The urban agriculturalist writes, “My own experience tells me that if we can expose young people to more fresh, delicious food — and create positive emotions around those experiences — that we can increase the chances that they will adopt more fresh food into their diet as they begin to make independent food choices later in life.”

But this begs another question…

In the Black community — or any other neighborhood where healthful food is scarce — where does one go to come into contact with these fresh, delicious foods, and to experience these positive emotions?

In these communities, food is seldom associated with soil but with drive-thru windows and cellophane packaging. Instead of food being the source of positive emotions (and thus healthful choices), food companies link their health-less products to the consumer’s positive emotions for Kobe Bryant or LeBron James. It’s actually quite brilliant.

What is even more brilliant is what Will Allen is doing to bring agriculture back to the inner city. Each year, Will and his Growing Power team — located in Milwaukee, WI — produce 40 tons of vegetables and raise 100,000 fish on just three acres of land, and in an urban area where soil quality is typically poor due to the lack of animal life and organic matter.

Even more amazing than the immensity of Mr. Allen’s food production is the effect his organization has had on the surrounding community, where disinvestment has led to an exodus of supermarkets and an influx of fast food joints and corner stores.

Growing Power is a place where visitors can literally reconnect with their roots. People of all races can dig their hands deep into the soil and feel where real food comes from. African-American men, women, boys, and girls can recapture the generational wisdom of growing and cooking their own food. The shameful emotions of slavery and sharecropping are replaced by a brand new enthusiasm for self-sufficiency and community.

I can’t stop wondering…

What if those students attending my presentation knew how to use earthworms to turn waste — discarded vegetables and fruits, meat scraps, coffee grounds, and paper products — into the most incomparable fertilizer?

What if they knew how to create an inexpensive system for growing fish while at the same time raising plants by using their roots to clear toxic nitrogen from the water before returning it to the fish via gravity?

What if they had spent just a few days of their youths preparing affordable fruit and vegetable baskets for impoverished families?

What if they had, just once, risen at 4am to harvest organic asparagus, collards, spinach, and carrots, and taken them to market the following day to earn income through nourishing the bodies of their neighbors?

If they had had these exposures and experienced the accompanying emotions…

Would they still consume junk food, order meals through a talking menu board, or give two sh*ts about what LeBron and Kobe have to say about anything other than basketball?

Would they need me to fly across the country to tell them what real food is?

Probably not.

At the conclusion of each of my sessions, I challenged the students to be the ones who change the health of future generations of African-Americans. Empowering health habits are just as easy to pass down generationally as poor ones. Be the change.

The world needs more Will Allens. He exemplifies the change more than anyone I have ever come across. His story has inspired the heck out of me. I suggest you read The Good Food Revolution. At the very least, watch the video below to learn more.

Underground Gardens has a nice ring to it.


iJERF (Just Eat Real Food)
Real Food Summit



5 thoughts on “From Slavery to Sharecropping to Solutions (Part 2 of 2)

  1. Mike

    Hey Sean. Hook a brother up with a link to part 1 of this and also, is there a youtube vid of this event you spoke at?

  2. scooter

    Yes! Late to the party, but yes!

    In St. Louis, there was a program about five years ago to distribute the excess produce from community gardens to people in need (a majority of whom are black), but what they found was that people were throwing the produce away because *they didn’t know how to cook/eat it.* How sad is that? Especially because the plantation South would not have been possible without agricultural technology and know-how brought along by the slave population, but their great-great grandchildren are so disconnected from that knowledge. And the lack of knowledge and skills has all the crazy negative health effects you’re talking about.

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