Rolling Out

Black family fights to grow fresh food on their home’s front lawn

Black family fights to grow fresh food on their home's front lawn
Aja Yasir and her husband Yasir Allah. (Photo courtesy of Aja Yasir)

Aja Yasir feeds her family healthy food grown on the front lawn of her home in Gary, Indiana. Her garden “Rose for Yaminah” — named for her infant daughter who passed in 2016 — sits in her front yard and serves as a source of fresh food and herbs, including onions, arctic kiwi, goldenseal and black tomatoes, for her family. However, Gary’s Department of Environmental Affairs and Green Urbanism has taken issue with Yasir’s garden and has issued a citation to appear in court on June 24, 2019.

Rolling out spoke to Yasir about her upcoming court date, her gardening and why her example is important to the city’s growth.

What does it mean for you to be able to have a garden at your home?

Having a garden at my home is intrinsic to who I am. As someone who adheres to natural healing, growing at home is everything. Many of us are dealing with adrenal fatigue and adrenal failure. I grow a plant called African Ashwagandha. It’s used as an herb for adrenal fatigue. It basically calms you down and helps you relax. But because I grow it in the same environment in which I live, it is faced with some of the same environmental stresses that I’m faced with and has more of an understanding of my body’s needs.

 What is the city of Gary’s issue with your garden?

We use wood chips in our landscape. The city of Gary is built on sand. Though sand can be filled with nutrients, it is difficult for plants to hold onto that nutrition because water and nutrients have a tendency to flow right through sand. In order to build the soil up, you have to use organic material. Since I’m big on terroir and soil building, I use organic material that’s readily available in our area like wood chips, leaves, rainwater and seaweed to build our soil. When you build soil with organic material, you cut down on water usage, you add nutrients to the soil, and you don’t have to continuously pull weeds. Though other urban farmers in our vicinity use wood chips and the city uses wood chips in their landscapes, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Green Urbanism is saying they have an issue with ours. There seems to be a lack of scientific understanding.

What would be a reasonable solution to this dispute?

My family just wants to be left alone. We eat a certain way. The grocery stores in Gary don’t offer many fruits and vegetables. So many areas in the city, including ours, are zoned for both residential and agriculture. There is an opportunity here to make Gary a model for self-sufficiency and food abundance controlled by residents of Gary. We can eradicate poverty and blight through resident-controlled agriculture. People can start their own farm-to-bottle wineries, soap businesses, restaurants, even clothing lines all based on what they can grow at home.

Take a look a few pics from the garden below.

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