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Cultivating The Spirit of Ubuntu

Iyé's efforts to tackle food insecurity and reconnect racialized people to ancestral lands 🌱

By DonziikinzPublished 3 years ago 6 min read
First Place in Good Deeds Challenge
Cultivating The Spirit of Ubuntu
Photo by Etienne Assenheimer on Unsplash

Last year was a challenging year for everyone and undoubtedly one for the history books. Amid the pandemic and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, I often had moments where I just wanted to sink into a dark abyss and forget that the world around me existed. It didn't help that my eating habits took a turn for the worst. Personal and collective struggles had engulfed me, and to be honest, I was tired of it all. I won't lie; I had a powerful virtual support system in my mother and sister, but not having them in my physical space had its limitations and left a void in me that was not easy to fill. Over time, I turned to my connections in my local Black community for comfort. I had amassed a group of friends that all relied on each other to get through the tough times en masse, and though they didn't ask for any praise, they deserved it.

As everything in the world seemingly went awry, my friend Ruth and I, who are co-owners of a small community platform, Black Speaks Victoria, decided to find some good in all that was going on around us. Black Speaks was created to amplify Black voices and shine a light on Black excellence in our community. Seeing Black folks being slain in the U.S. pushed us even harder to fulfill our platform's purpose. We had recently learned that one of the guys in our Black community circle and his wife had started a new community initiative. Ariel and Jess had raised approximately $3000 through crowdfunding to fund their initiative, Palenke Greens. We were deeply impressed, so we reached out to them for an interview. We were super stoked when they agreed.

Palenke Greens is an initiative by Jess and Ariel’s social enterprise, Iyé Creative. It was created to provide families in need with a sustainable food source, which in this case was burlap sack gardens. According to them, their target group was "people of African descent who are facing food insecurity and have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, and are also interested in gardening, and cultivating the Ubuntu spirit of communal self-reliance”. Jess and Ariel's beliefs are deeply rooted in the Zulu proverb called Ubuntu that says, “I am a person through other people. My humanity is tied to yours.” This has been their guiding principle in all that they do to advance our Black community members. By acknowledging that access to nutritious food is a basic human right, they tackle systems of oppression that affect the relationship between land and people and also make fresh food inaccessible.

Iyé provides those in need with a fully assembled burlap sack garden, and they also help to install it. Prior to installation, they do an assessment of your space and determine the best location based on sunlight and other factors required for the plants to thrive. Additionally, they recognize that there are some individuals who are interested in gardening, but the thought of it intimidates them. Knowing that I fell in that category, they not only offered me (and Ruth) burlap sack gardens, they were ready to impart gardening knowledge to us as well. Unfortunately, we were not able to accommodate the large burlap sacks in our small apartments. I could tell that they were disappointed as they knew the positive impact these sacks would have had on our lives.

After a lovely afternoon in the sun listening to Ariel passionately discuss Palenke Greens as we sipped some of his homemade kombucha, Ruth and I were left feeling inspired and prepared to head home. Ariel promptly stopped us in our tracks to let us know that he had gifts for us. His time was gift enough, so we were surprised that he had something else in store for us. He went to his backyard garden and handed each of us a tomato plant. I’m accustomed to gifts such as perfumes, gadgets, and wine, so this was different. Though I wasn’t blessed with my grandmother’s green thumb, I was thrilled as this was the first step to producing my own food. Surprisingly, having a plant to take care of brought me further out of my rut and encouraged me to follow Iyé’s teachings of nourishing my body with organic homegrown food.

My tomato plant.

Upon successfully nurturing my plant and seeing my first tomato blossom, this gave me a confidence boost, and I decided to dabble in the area of growing my own microgreens. I soon had fresh greens a stone’s throw away from my kitchen, which motivated me to reignite my passion for cooking. I used my fresh produce in my salads, sandwiches, stir-fries, and my favourite, pea and mint risotto. I no longer relied on Door Dash and Uber Eats to deliver junk food. I was preparing my own meals again, which significantly helped with the lethargy I had been experiencing. As cliché as it sounds, I felt like a new woman. I was truly amazed by the domino effect created by a single tomato plant, and it was a constant reminder of the importance of the work being done in our community by Jess and Ariel.

Pea and mint risotto by yours truly.

As their pilot project, Jess and Ariel provided over thirty burlap sack gardens for racialized folks in our community. Recipients ranged from families to working individuals to even students. One person who falls into the latter group is Salma, a Black youth advocate and aspiring nurse. They say a picture tells a thousand words, and just her expression below speaks to the joy that this experience evokes within her. This photo warms my heart as it is a delight to witness persons from the younger generation taking an interest in cultivating their own food. There is a popular African-American saying, “each one teach one,” and I hope that by learning how to provide for themselves, our young adults can, in turn, share this knowledge with their peers.

If you didn’t think they were doing enough, I will note that they were flexible in their offerings. They provided portable plants for folks who were always on the go and needed plants that they could easily move from one location to another. Pictured below is Yamila, an amazing young entrepreneur who offers free financial literacy workshops and support to folks across the province. However, despite her dynamic schedule, she did not pass on the opportunity to reconnect with Mother Earth and get some smaller plants to call her own!

Months after receiving our tomato plants, we learned that Jess and Ariel were still disappointed that Ruth and I couldn't benefit from the burlap sack gardens. They had spent all that time pondering a solution as their giving spirits would not rest until they could provide us with more than tomatoes. It was then that the mini burlap sack garden came to fruition. Though the tiny sacks weren’t suitable for large plants, they were great for herbs and were the perfect addition to my small space. Of course, having my mini sack meant having a wider array of fresh flavours to add to my meals! Iyé Creative was just the gift that kept on giving.

Jess and Ariel’s latest venture has been Palenke Produce Boxes. In one day, they provided over a thousand pounds of locally sourced farm fresh produce to over fifty households. Not only were they addressing food insecurity, but they were also supporting local farmers. If that isn’t amazing, then I don’t know what is. They started as a couple with a dream to help others and this dream manifested in such an extraordinary way. In their words, “We must address the causes of food insecurity in the first place and plant the seeds for abundance and sovereignty where we all belong and relate to one another.” These words resonate with me, and quite frankly, I could not have said it better myself.

This amazing duo and beacons of light in our community are now expecting a bundle of joy to join their clan soon. I hope that their child experiences the abundance that they have put forth into the world tenfold. Even with a child on the way, their efforts have not slowed, and it would be remiss of me not to mention how much I respect these two. They have empowered, uplifted, and fed so many in our community, and their momentum keeps increasing. For them, this is a lifelong commitment, not a side project, and this commitment really shifted my situation during the pandemic as well as my overall perspective.

If you’d like to support their efforts in reconnecting folks to ancestral lands and breaking down barriers that perpetuate food insecurity for racialized communities, then you can do so by either spreading the word or contributing to their GoFund Me. I am one of many persons who have benefited in one way or another, but there is still work to be done, and this requires a collective effort. On that note, I’ll leave you with this friendly Zulu reminder, “umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu,” which means “a person is a person through other people.” 💕


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    DonziikinzWritten by Donziikinz

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