LANSING, Mich. — One Lansing man is trying to challenge stereotypes around farming and make gardening more inclusive.
“I’ve had multiple people catch me in the garden when I’m walking past and they want to know what I’m doing and once I tell them, they want to know what I’m growing," said Allan Whitley. "That falls back to people not thinking that they can grow in an urban setting.”
Whitley says his green thumb goes way back.
“My father and my grandfather were farmers not necessarily as a job, but just as a necessity to feed the family," he said. "It was one of the chores I kind of fought, but the past few years, it just somehow came back to me.”
Whitley started off with a 100 square foot garden behind his home. When the garden began to sprout, he wanted to share his passion. So, he started Root of the Vine Urban Garden, an effort to educate communities across Lansing about the power of urban gardening.
As part of Root of the Vine Urban Garden, Whitley produces podcasts and videos with tips for gardening in an urban environment. He also gives away starter kits to people looking to get into it.
“To just put it broad, we want a garden in every yard,” said Whitley.
But that’s easier said than done for a Black urban gardener.
“There's a difference between urban gardening and the actual rural country gardening as far as dealing with race," said Whitley. "As far as how the systems are set up, African Americans don’t have all of the access.”
According to a 2017 US Department of Agriculture census, 95% of the country’s nearly 3.4 million farmers are White. It reported that there were only 45,000 Black farmers in the US.
Whitley says there can be barriers to applying for grants and receiving federal funding for Black farmers, making it difficult for them to tap into agriculture.
But he says community gardening fills that gap.
The Capital United Land Trust is an organization working to cooperatively own plots of land throughout the city to use for urban farming.
Board member Julia Kramer says trying to acquire land by other means can be tricky.
“When you lease a lot from the land bank and you’re trying to reintegrate the soil so that it’s a really healthy place for plants to grow, there’s always that fear that that land will be slated for development and it’ll be sort of torn out from under you,” said Kramer.
That’s why Whitley wants people to feel empowered to garden in their own backyards.
“Organic, fresh grown food from the garden tastes so much better than the from the grocery store, so to put that out there and just let everybody in the community realize that you can be a part of this and you can do this," he said. "It doesn’t take a lot.”
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