Invest in Black Farmers! Talking to Antajuan Addams Sr. you can’t help but respond to his keen interest in supporting the community—and especially Black Farmers. Adjacent to the former St Liborius Church (now SK8 Liborius), the New Roots Urban Farm uses the magnetic force of lush, organic vegetation, chickens and bunnies (soon a goat?), and an outdoor kitchen to bring together people of all ages, learning from each other as they do the work of growing food. By reaching out to artists and folks who are interested in volunteering or hosting an activity at the garden, Antajuan masterfully organizes events that draw crowds all summer.
Recently Antajuan took a trip to a Black-owned farm in North Carolina, where he stayed with the owners, an elderly couple who invited him to learn all he could from them during his week’s visit. Upon his return to St Louis, preoccupied with sifting through all he had learned, he stopped to check on the animals at NRUF. As he opened the gate, out of nowhere an 8-year-old blew past him. With a quick greeting on his way to see the chickens, the boy said, “this is my safe space”. (A tear started to form as Antajuan shared this story.)
His own background and life experiences have shown Antajuan that the “safe space” of NRUF can be used to elevate the social, emotional and mental space of local youths. He is proud of the results of the extensive mentoring program that he organizes and ministers. Tuesdays and Saturdays, from 10:00 am to 6:00 p, students from nearby St Louis University and Washington University work alongside local youths. This communal effort helps provide the college volunteers with a better grasp of systemic poverty and racism, all the while providing positive inspirations and connections to the community. https://www.solidaritystl.org/
Additionally Antajuan is the Farm Supervisor at the North County Agricultural Education Center (NECAEC) https://www.facebook.com/ncaecnp/ , where he commits his efforts to bringing a new generation of neighbors to the experience of preparing nutritious food with one’s own hands. He refers to this work of growing strong bodies and minds by nurturing seeds into great food as the “Health Garden”. The verdant mustard greens, salad vegetables, beans, tomatoes, squash and okra naturally attract interest and soon people want to pet the bunnies and hold the chickens. “Go hunt for eggs!”, proud papa says to his 6-year-old daughter, who now has some skills of her own.
Even though Antajuan grew up literally walking past the garden that has become New Roots Urban Farm on his way to school every day, he did not determine to become involved in farming until much later. Instead, he recalled being welcomed by Catholic Workers and encouraged to develop an interest in the natural world. He reflects fondly on opportunities to go to summer camp in the country, and especially on the encouragement he received from Mary Ann McGivern of the Sisters of Loretto. It was she who helped him convince his 2nd grade teacher at the now shuttered Jackson Elementary School to put his entire class to work planting tulip bulbs as part of a classroom project. Years later, that experience is now the germ of a future plans for school outreach.
When asked, “What are your plans are for the next five years?”, Antajuan replied that he is interested in learning about opportunities for the Black gardeners “he grows” through his mentoring programs. This includes finding land in the city to rent or own, with the goal of growing fresh produce year-round. He would like help creating a business plan that he could use when applying for grants and/or creating a ‘go fund me’ page. If you have a background in this sort of thing, volunteers are needed. https://newrootsurbanfarm.com/
Calling himself “the richest poor man in St Louis”, Antajuan not only encourages us to support Black farmers, but marvels at and celebrates the power of their work and the community it helps to build.