Trauma at the Soil

- Why Food Justice is Environmental Therapy -

My neighbor Wanda lives in Berkeley, California – she calls herself a Black Urban Farmer and tells me that urban farms heal the wounds that slavery created. People who toiled on the soil experienced trauma at the soil – a continuum of our humanity and balance with fellow humans violated, disconnected, broken into that which must be healed. We were meant to play in the soil, before the hubris of trash. Thus dirt is dirty.

Wanda then shows me a picture of Black people who lived in the South – a black and white photograph of a group of wrinkled black-women, all gussied-up in what looked like dresses from the 1800s, four women stood taller than the others. Wanda would go onto explain that what she had was a picture of emancipated slaves. And then she would recount their ages…. 104, 105, 110, 125.

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Washington, D.C., 1916. “Convention of former slaves. Annie Parram, age 104; Anna Angales, age 105; Elizabeth Berkeley, 125; Sadie Thompson, 110.”
(Harris & Ewing Collection / Library of Congress)
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Wanda talked about how surprised she was when she first learned of the women’s ages. She would ask quizzically: “Something must’ve been right for these women to live so long!!” She’d then go onto talk about their connection to the soil, how the collard-greens she grows in her gardens are important to her healthy diet. Being Japanese-American, I feel the same way about pickled-plums and shiso (a flavorful green or purple herb).

I’ve been out on the soil with her, digging. The garden is a place where people of all ages and colors come for a project that benefit the hungry, the children learn how to play with the soil, and the adults learn to talk with each other. The disconnect is slowly-healed. Learning how to re-connect with the soil and to grow food is ultimately a nourishing and healing journey for everyone involved. It is environmental-education that holds extrinsic value to populations that do not have access to healthy food-systems. Stacking functions, gardens can bolster any disaster plan by providing food and a gathering place to nearby residents for enhanced emergency-preparedness.

Here’s a video that shows Wanda at her Garden. As a Edible Garden teacher in West Oakland, she nourishes the children by teaching them how to grow their own food, and then how to cook that food – and she helps out butterflies along the way. Her work is nothing short of the genius of a Gifted Healer.

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Ayako Nagano is on the steering committee for the NorCal Resilience Network, whose mission is to promote a Just Transition to an equitable and regenerative future by supporting and activating community-based and ecologically-grounded solutions. She also serves on the steering committee for Transition Berkeley. Transition Initiative is a worldwide initiative that hopes to foster positive solutions from the ground up, one town at a time. There are 163 initiatives currently in the U.S.