The Ypsi Farmers & Gardener Oral History Project (YFGOHP) is a continuation of a previous research project, Marginalized Food Growers in a Changing Environment: Tracing Collective Survival Strategies. In that project, Finn Bell, along with community partners—Growing Hope, King-Dome Builders, Old City Acres, and We the People Opportunity Farm—examined how Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and/or working class people in Ypsilanti use growing food to build resistance and resilience in an environment that is rapidly changing because of gentrification and climate change. The food growers’ stories were profound, and it became apparent that they needed a platform in which they could tell their own stories to their own communities, which is why this oral history project is necessary. The YFGOHP recognizes how oral traditions serve as an essential site of passing down cultural traditions, particularly within marginalized communities. Oral histories are “not a question of ‘giving’ voice, but of providing the space for people to express their thoughts and feelings in their words and on their own terms” (Ruiz, 1998, p. xvi).
This project is based on food sovereignty principles, including the “right to have rights over food” (Patel, 2009, p. 663). As many struggles in Ypsilanti over housing, land, and the right to grow food have most impacted Black communities, this project is also based in Black food growing values. In the face of land dispossession and cultural imperialism, Black agrarianism has been an essential part of radical freedom movements against white supremacy and colonialism (White, 2018).
Gardening is unique in that it is both a way to provide nourishment and a way to create beauty. In Bell’s previous research, growing food was clearly a way that people addressed the everyday disasters of racial capitalism, including living in low-income and food apartheid neighborhoods, but also growing food was a way for people to create meaning in their lives. For many BIPOC and working class people, growing food for themselves and their families was a way to reconnect with ancestral ties that had been severed due to land loss and cultural imperialism. In uniting storytelling with portraiture, the Ypsi Farmers & Gardeners Oral History Project shows not only the real human costs of these injustices, but also the resistance that generations of Ypsilantians have waged.