Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Pedagogy of Transformation - Powerful Words from a Visionary Farmer

The streets were jammed with buses, cars and people headed to the 25th annual Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday celebration at the MLK Center in Atlanta
Monday as I made my way to the fruit tree planting at the new 4 acre Wheat Street
Gardens Urban Farm. As I got out of my truck i could hear singing coming from the celebration at the King Center, 2 blocks away. I got there a little after the posted start time of 10:00 a.m. I was astounded to see a swarm of people already working away, hauling compost, planting trees,
bulbs and shrubs and wheeling mulch all around the site. There were old people, middle aged people, young adults and lots and lots of kids. Families were gathering together to take pictures of each other planting trees on this important day. Every one was joyous and the mood was infectious.

I tracked down Rashid Nuri and Eugene Cook, the masterminds behind this wonderful project, to see what they would like me to do. I commented about how awesome it was to see so many people there and Rashid said he was too. He said that as an organization they had not done any promotion of the event to the greater community. The plants were donated by ALFI, the Atlanta, Local Food Initiative, so some people involved in that group knew about and came out. Other people heard about it through the grape vine and many people who came for the MLK Day festivities happened by and decided to pitch in. I would estimate that there were over 200 people working during the course of the day. I would also say that 90% of them had never planted a fruit tree or shrub before.

I was assigned the task of planting the blackberries and raspberries. I worked with a couple of college aged women and a man and his little boy. The little boy asked what it was we were planting. I told him they were raspberries. His dad asked me when they would start producing fruit. I said it would be next year before there would be any fruit to pick. He said " Hey son, we will be about to come back next year to see and taste the fruits of our work here today". The little boy was excited by that prospect. The 2 women said they lived a few blocks away and had stumbled upon the farm while out walking one day. They were interested in finding out about other opportunities to contribute in the future. I showed them how to plant the berries properly and we all pitched in to get the job done.

As we were finishing up the planting a group of 3 or 4 boys and girls about 9 or 10 years old started showing up with buckets full of wood chips. Back and forth up and down the hill they went bringing bucket after bucket. One of the boys asked if what was in the bucket was fertilizer? I said no it was mulch. He asked, "well what is fertilizer?" then answered himself with "manure". I told him the microbes in the soil would eventually break down the mulch to feed the plants. "humus?" he asked. I said yes it would eventually turn into humus. "Oh, you mean decay". Yes, young man, you totally get it.

After we finished up that project I found Rashid to let him know we were done and i told him about the conversation with the kids. He got a big smile on his face and he said that this farm was all about the pedagogy of transformation. Teach people to transform themselves and they will go out and transform their community. This process made a huge leap forward that day. There is no doubt in my mind that many people were inspired to go back to their homes and communities and start growing some food. I imagine for many people this was an experience they will never forget. I know I will not.

Here some links to information about Rashid and Eugene's work at Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farms. and their partner in this effort the Wheat Street Baptist Church Foundation.

Truly Living Well Center for Natural Urban Agriculture
Wheat Street Baptist Church
Wheat Street Gardens Urban Farm

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