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Debriefing the Season & Crop Planning- Spotlight: Naajia Shakir

I’m Naajia, a first-year student at Rutgers University majoring in Environmental Policy, institutions, and Behaviors (yeah it’s a mouthful). I’ve been helping with the garden since my junior year of high school, and I think it is wonderful. This past season I was an assistant farm manager or Sprout. Working in the garden has given me some peace of mind as it feels like I’m connected with the earth. It’s amazing to see plants grow from all the hard work we put in tending to it, in which reflects our lives as we strive to achieve our goals. The community farm has taught me strength, patience, and resilience while even influencing my choice in major. As an African-American woman from Camden City I believe it’s important for me to know how to grow my own food and to willing take part in nature while also receiving the benefits from it.

The garden has significantly grown this past year as I’ve returned from school on weekends to lead community volunteer days. It now has raised beds, more trellis systems, and even a tool shed. Most importantly, it has a bigger community among the people that support it, visit, and volunteer often. I think raised beds are important because during growing seasons in the past we had to keep digging new beds which took up a lot of time away from other responsibilities in the garden. Now that we have raised beds we can do so much more with the garden and make sure every plant is fine.

Since the new growing season is quickly approaching, we debriefed about last season and started planning what crops we want to plant this winter. We do this with our student farm managers and also our elder growers. An alpha about last season is that I felt like I was able work more in the garden and connect with it, and was very happy that we were able to harvest a lot of mint and plant a variety of crops. This included creating raised beds and a real classroom. A delta would be that I felt that some new Resilient Roots interns were very nonchalant and lenient when it came to planting, and that a bunch of spinach, kale, and collards were not harvested and was consumed by bugs. I’m not really sure what we can do for the next chapter of the program, because each generation is unique and are changing. But from the start I think we have to make it clear that if they want to work in the garden there needs to be some serious commitment. Without care the plants will perish and they need as much love and affection as people do. I think next year will be better because we will have a water irrigation system and hopefully a greenhouse. So, completing tasks in the garden will be more efficient and we won’t get burnt out with watering.

During Crop Planning, we chose the crops that we wanted more or less in the garden to cater to our farmers market, the organizations we give vegetables to, and for ourselves. I really want a grape tree (I know we have to wait up to 3 years for fruit) but if it’s too much of maintenance I understand. Plus, if we had one it would be really awesome because everyone loves grapes. I also want to grow more cilantro and turmeric. A lot of people love it especially it in cultural dishes. Even though the herbs have become a new trend in health and cooking, my family as well as others have been using it for generations and are quite glad people are paying more attention to it.

Naajia Shakir is in the top photo. Second from the right in the back row. Top photo is student farm managers.

Left photo is the current crop plan for Resilient Roots 2019. Check it out!

Right photo is an Elder Growers Season debrief

About the Grantee

Vietlead

VietLead is a grassroots organization that strives to improve health, increase sovereignty, and develop Vietnamese leadership in solidarity through intergenerational farming; youth leadership; health navigation; policy advocacy; and civic engagement. Our Food Sovereignty and community garden program was built from seeing how food is an important part of how refugees practice self-determination.