Ariel Reyes Antuan and Jess Barton have started a community initiative to help racialized people facing food insecurity by providing them with burlap sack gardens. (Shalu Mehta/News Staff)

Victoria duo tackles food insecurity in Victoria with burlap sack gardens

Palenke Greens initiative an homage to Black and Indigenous connections

Two Victoria community organizers are tackling the issue of food insecurity, particularly amongst racialized individuals, by offering tools to garden just about anywhere using a burlap sack.

Palenke Greens is an initiative that recently launched thanks to Ariel Reyes Antuan and Jess Barton. Together, they hope to work with Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups to “generate abundance” and a food sharing network.

“When you look in Victoria, people have so many beautiful gardens but when you go to racialized communities their reality is totally different,” Reyes Antuan said. “I started my own garden in the backyard which was hard at first but once I got used to it I started producing my own food. That’s a call for me to support my community and show people we don’t have to wait for government funding or a non-profit to do their job. We can do it ourselves.”

The project is a tribute to enslaved Africans who escaped plantations and the repressive systems they were living in during the late 18th early 19th century in places such as Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Haiti, Brazil and the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia.

Using guidance from local Indigenous people, Maroons – enslaved Africans that escaped plantations – created social-economic formations based on agriculture and mutual aid. The social systems were called Palenque o apalancamiento in Spanish or Palenkes.

These Palankes were located deep in the jungle where inhabitants worked together to harvest crops, hunt, fish and trade and barter.

In Victoria, the Palenke Greens initiative draws on African and Indigenous bonds formed at the time to revitalize practices – such as growing gardens in burlap sacks, commonly done in African countries – call on ancestral wisdom and support the community.

“When you talk to Black people about gardening, it triggers slavery times and the inter-generational traumas that come out,” Reyes Antuan said. “We need to start having these conversations to empower people. Food can heal our connection to the land.”

Stage one of the Palenke Greens project involves providing burlap sack gardens to 50 African-descent households facing food insecurity and disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each burlap sack can hold about 10 plants and costs $55. A GoFundMe campaign raised close to their $2,750 goal for the first part of the initiative within the first week. The City of Victoria also donated seedlings.

Depending on how stage one goes, they plan to expand to others in the community and eventually plant gardens in boulevards, near schools and near community centres.

Reyes Antuan said many people living in apartment buildings, renting a room in a home or in a basement suite don’t have the area to garden but as long as they have a sunny spot, they can use the burlap sack garden.

“A lot of people don’t have space to garden and community garden wait lists are so long,” Reyes Antuan said. “A lot of the time landlords don’t allow people to garden as well which to me is ridiculous.”

The hope, at the end of it all, is to come together with the community in a Palenke Greens harvest celebration.

“It’s a chance for us to come together and find a solution to issues we’re having,” Reyes Antuan said. “We’re the people and we have the power.”

shalu.mehta@blackpress.ca

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