In alignment with the CAC's Ecologies of Elsewhere exhibition, the Co-LAB summer series focused on collaborations with BIPOC artists, farmers, and gardeners in the community. Inspired by Ejaradini, the ongoing garden project by MADEYOULOOK, we developed educational programming that provides learning resources, teach-ins, and conversations about growing practices and our creative relationship with nature. With Curatorial Fellow, Malik Wilkins, we will produce a response show to Ecologies in our 6th floor Community Gallery in October. The Backyard Garden Series is another opportunity to explore the themes MADEYOULOOK examine in Ejaradini. This and future blog posts document the experiences we and our visitors have had during these valuable programs.
Our first Backyard Garden session took place on a beautiful Saturday in early June in MADEYOULOOK’s Ejaradini sanctuary outside the CAC. Led by Celeste Treece and Timothy Lewis, participants were able to engage with MADEYOULOOK’s installation and plant seedlings to take home. The installation was a perfect location to begin the series. Ejaradini features wooden planters filled with flowers and food-bearing plants. Among them, photographs and stories of Black farmers, discovered through Malik’s careful research, tell a forgotten history. These stories and photographs, along with the plants (which were sourced from local Black growers), are at the heart of what MADEYOULOOK is trying to achieve with their garden projects. About their spaces created in their native South Africa, they state:
The township garden is a claim of landedness and of relation, in places where belonging cannot be assumed. The township garden makes space for personalized labor and for individual time. Township gardens are, for many who plant them, a source of food, of pleasure and of refuge. (Ejaradini)
Though we’re in a very different situation here in Southwest Ohio, we’re finding plenty of similar cases of people of color engaging with urban farming close to home. Like the township gardens, these tended-to ecologies of “here” provide a powerful alternative source of nourishment for the people who tend them. Both Treece and Lewis are part of that narrative. Treece, the founder of AG Noire Ohio BIPOC Farming Association, and Lewis, a co-founder of urban agricultural farm Rid-All, brought their passion and knowledge to participants who then became a part of that story. Attendees came away with seedlings and new or strengthened connections to the local urban gardening community. Stories, tips, and questions were exchanged, and we all left eager to set up farm and garden visits all over the region.
Our community-building experience with Treece allowed us to connect with Shannon Carr, the founder of Isaiah 55 Inc., a community garden in Avondale. Later that month, we hosted our next Backyard Garden session there. Isaiah 55 Inc. provides food for the organization’s 16-year-old mobile food pantry service and offers mentorship to those who help tend to the garden. During the Saturday morning program, attendees rolled up their sleeves and helped with planting and harvesting. We heard stories about Carr’s grandmother, Mrs. Kanggy, also an avid grower, interwoven with helpful techniques for sustainable plant growth.
To gain inspiration for the series, we visited again with Celeste Treece—this time at her home base in Lincoln Heights. The Howard and Kerlia Daniels Learning and Innovation Center is a hub for youth and others in the neighborhood to learn creativity, marketing and
entrepreneurial skills, and the history of Lincoln Heights. Treece and the Center’s youth coordinator, Immanuel Floyd, led us on a tour of the Center, discussed the neighborhood’s history as the first Black-led municipality north of the Mason-Dixon line, and gave information about the Center’s mission. At the heart of the Center’s work is a reclaimed lot that the group has transformed into a vegetable garden, commercial composting site, and gathering space—complete with an artisanal stone fireplace. Teens and children in the neighborhood helped clear the lot, eventually bringing their parents to assist as well. Now the site is a place for intergenerational connections to be made and sustained. Floyd and Treece made clear that the work has made a tremendous impact on the young folks in the community, and honors the neighborhood’s long, rich Black history.
All the growers we worked with during these three visits talked about the concept of companion growing. This is the process in which one crop’s growth supports the growth of a neighboring, and sometimes overlapping, plant. This concept easily translates to how this series has evolved alongside the narratives found in the exhibition, highlighting the importance of community, one person supporting another, and another, in the reconnection to lost histories and the restructuring of inequitable systems—the importance of growing together.