Community

'This Is What Power Is'

I was born and raised in public housing projects in the South Bronx. My mother and father are Puerto Rican immigrants who came to the U.S. when they were 16 and 17. My father was homeless for a while, and then got a job as a deli man, a dishwasher, and ultimately moved up to becoming a maintenance man in the public housing projects we grew up in.

When I was growing up in the South Bronx, it was dark times. It was the ’60s and the ’70s, and if you know your history, you know that the South Bronx was devastated and burned. Later I learned that the fires were due to “planned shrinkage” and “urban renewal” plans, which proposed that if you closed down public services, ultimately you could come in and rebuild a community, but it didn’t work like that in the South Bronx. As a little girl, I’d be perched on my washing machine, looking out from my ninth-story window, watching my community burn.

Nevertheless, I had tremendous love for my family and community until the outside world began to tell me that I was poor, that I lived in poverty, and that I was a child of the ghetto. As a result, I was a whole list of “at risks.” I was at risk of violence, and at risk of dropping out of school, and at risk of getting pregnant. While I defined myself as a beautiful brown girl with beautiful parents and a wonderful family, the rest of the world would define me and the measure of my success not by how I lived and thrived within my own community, but by how far I could escape from it. In my 20s I made a successful career for myself doing other things, forgetting about the poor, and becoming a conscientious objector to my own story and to the story of my family. Despite the fact that my family was still in the South Bronx, I was in a nice apartment in midtown Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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How to ... Plant a Community Garden

“Food deserts,” neighborhoods where people must walk at least a mile or drive 30 miles to access a grocery store, are rife in both urban and rural areas throughout the U.S. Planting a community farm on your church’s land can help the most vulnerable members of society gain access to fresh fruits and vegetables they might not otherwise be able to afford—or to find at all.

Cedar Ridge Community Church in Spencerville, Maryland, which owns 63 acres, found there were many low-income single parents in its neighborhood struggling to buy healthy food for their children, says Beth Burgess, director of facilities and outreach.

Here’s how to get started:

Survey the community (six months-ongoing). Assess “food security” in your neighborhood, through written and other contacts—don’t rush this step!

Survey the land (three months). Get soil samples tested to determine what plants will grow best (check www.csrees.usda.gov/Extension for info). Get skilled advice about fencing and irrigation systems.

Plan crop rotations (one month). Using expert input, create a five-year garden rotation calendar—rotating crops deters insects and aerates soil. To ensure a strong first harvest, consider easy-to-grow plants such as tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, and greens. Plan how you will get needed tools; consider creating a “tool library” whose contents can be checked out.

Break the news and break ground (six weeks). Spread the news, then gather your congregation and neighbors for a celebratory four-hour session to till the plot—and get a wider circle involved! For farms larger than 5 acres, consider hiring a professional to finish tilling.

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Sojourners Magazine July 2009
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