Urban Agriculture...Nothing New!

Venice R. Williams, Executive Director Alice's Garden


I am often asked, ’When did you get involved in urban agriculture?’  I must admit, at times I am annoyed by the question.  In the midst of this era where urban agriculture has become a movement that you join or connect to,  it is hard for some to understand that, for many, like myself, growing food in the urban context has always been a way of life for our families, for our people.  It has been part of the physical and cultural landscape of African Americans, always, and there is nothing new about it. 


All of my life, I have eaten from my great-grandfather’s, both of my grandmothers’, and my mother’s gardens.  I can still see and smell and taste the fresh beans that filled the pots and plates of the Hoots family house in Rankin, Pennsylvania; that sat up on a hill in the shadows of steel mills, smoke stacks, and towering, urban bridges.  My great-grandfather, Henry, grew the beans (and dozens of other crops), and  my great-grandmother, Nellie, shelled and cooked them.   My paternal  grandmother, Ora,  planted an apple tree in her front yard when she moved into the projects of Whitaker, a small urban borough that runs along the Monongahela River.  You will never taste an apple pie as good as the ones she made from the apples of that tree.  Helping my maternal grandmother, Helen, stake and tend to her tomato patch in her backyard was one of those          cherished grandma times, in Wilkinsburg, where the houses are so tightly built, you may look out of your own bedroom window and directly into that of your neighbor.  The image of my mother on her knees in her garden on 11th Avenue, in Homestead, is still one of the most peace-filled memories I have of growing up. 


I did not have to wait for someone to write a grant, conduct research, or complete a dissertation on the all-around value of urban gardening.  My family has known for generations.    My story is the story of many gardeners at Alice’s Garden.  Even those who are new to growing food, themselves, still have tales of ancestral farming that continue to nourish them as they discover the satisfaction of cultivating their own food.  When I came to Alice’s Garden seven years ago, I was told: ‘You will never be able to get Black people to come back to gardening! ’  I made it clear: We have never stopped growing food.  Look in our backyards, along the borders of our driveways.  The collards and mustards, the tomatoes and cabbage are there.   It is nothing new.                                        



Wisconsin Foodie visits Alice's Garden!





February 13, 2016


Alice’s Garden provides models of sustainable farming, community cultural development ,and economic agricultural enterprises for the global landscape.  We understand the cultivating, preparing and preserving of food and food traditions as a cultural arts to be reclaimed and celebrated fully in urban agriculture.

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