Mar 31, 2013


Abu Talib

90 West 164 Street
(Between Ogden in HighBridge)
Year Founded:  1992

A sea of white middle class faces, drinking sustainable, organic coffee filled the auditorium at the Food and Finance High School in NYC on March 29 and March 30.  We were all there for the Just Food Conference, a converging of farmers, want-a-be farmers, educators, activists, bloggers/writers, community organizers, permaculture aficionados, artisanal producers, upcoming chefs, social enterprise entrepreneurs and government officials and non-gorvernment agency representatives.  It's always an overwhelming experience choosing the workshops you want to go to: so many, all at the same time.

With my fair trade, Brazil Daterra coffee featuring notes of sweet melon from Brooklyn Roasting Company, I entered the classroom assigned to my chosen workshop, "The Diversity of Life In a Bronx Garden:  Intergenerational Growing."  The panel was composed of Abu Talib and Bobby Watson, grandfather and father who started Taqwa Community Garden, and Bobby's daughter, Kadesha Williams and moderator Sara Katz from Bronx Green-Up.  I've lowered expectations in terms of learning something significant from these experiences.  These days it's all about making connections, meeting people and sharing experiences.

But inspiration came my way.  Abu Talib is somewhere between 65-70.  He grow up in South Carolina working on the land.  Surrounded by concrete, he needed to find a connection to the land.  He found  an empty lot, but it wasn't empty.  Tires, bricks, needles, feces; every kind of garbage that people can throw away littered this area. Talib was not deterred.  With determination, energy and most of all enthusiasm, he began to clear the space; others joined him.  Almost twenty years later, there is still a pile of rubble.  The rest has been used for raised beds, planters, a stage, hoop house, barbecue.  There were no backhoes or grants or city help for this garden.  Talib, Bobby Watson and friends are responsible for making this garden.

I am sure there are many similar stories throughout the country.  This is only part of what impressed me.

"To be a community garden,
you have to be a community".

"I've been called a fool
I've been called stupid,
but the garden is my soul."

We welcome everyone to the garden.
It doesn't matter what you know or don't know.
In our garden there is a place for everyone.
We work with a lot of young people.
We tell them in the garden 
you forget who you are,
you are a gardener."

Abu Talib

Taqwa is extraordinary because of its spirit.  The giving away of food to the hungry became a Grow To Give Day.  Anyone can come and receive produce.  There are no food stamps.  It's what Taqwa stands for.  Several times during class, my Pilates teacher says "just breathe."   When Talib was speaking, I had to remind myself to breathe, because what he said took my breath away.


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