“I just couldn’t sit in my house and feel scared and powerless,” Avis Wanda McClinton says, thinking back to the early months of the pandemic. “There’s always something to do, you know? I’m a child of God. He gave me these beautiful hands and gave me this big heart, and I know how to grow food.” So that’s what she did.
“When you’re farming, it’s a solitary thing,” Avis Wanda reflects. “Down on my knees, preparing the beds for the plants, I just talked to God as I worked the earth, told him my fears and my worries and what I hope for the future.”
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The reason that I started this project of growing nutritious food was because of the COVID-19 pandemic that was killing Black people disproportionate to any other race of people, and I just couldn’t sit in my house and feel scared and powerless. There’s always something to do, you know? Just something to do and I got up off my dusty butt and got to work. This was the most hardest thing I ever had to do. There was a lot of tears and doubts and everything but here it is!
Creating a Friends Victory Garden
This is Avis Wanda McClinton here in North Hills, Pennsylvania in my backyard. The meeting I attend is Abington Friends Meeting in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania.
My mother and father were both North Carolinians. They left the Jim Crow south to make a better life for them, both of them separately, and they met here and produced me! My father was a World War II vet and after he got out of the war he said he’ll never live under the oppression of segregation and Jim Crow, so this neighborhood was the only place that they could buy land. It’s a redlined, segregated, all-Black neighborhood. Ever since my father bought this land, the very first thing he did was clear space for the garden and then later, you know, he built the house– him and my mother and her father, my grandfather, built this house. And now that I’m an old lady I see that impacted me and my inheritance from what they left. My father and mother believed in always having a little bit to share, so every year they would put in a garden to help the neighbors out with their food bill and get nutritious, healthy food, and since they’ve been gone I kept up the tradition.
Creating as a Response to Fear
When the pandemic struck and they kept saying, “Black people are dying more, Black people are dying more,” then I said, “Oh, I’m one of them Black people! I’m going to be dying soon.” So I said, “Hold up — slow down, Avis. You can do something.” I don’t have to sit in a house and be scared and feel like I’m powerless: I’m a child of God. He gave me these beautiful hands and gave me this big heart, and I know how to grow food. That’s something I really enjoy, and so I said: ok, we’ve always had a garden at my house ever since we owned this land and I wanted to give it more, and so this is what happened. We have the Friends Victory Gardens.
But I didn’t create it alone; I created it with the help of a whole lot of people that feel like I do about equality of everybody. Quakers from across America gave me the things I need, and if God keeps blessing me I would like to take this parcel of land that I’ve repurposed into a farm and donate it to the township as open space to only grow food for human beings. You know, a legacy that I can leave behind. I know that this won’t feed all the people that need it, but it’ll inspire people to do something. Since I started this I have three front-gardens of neighbors that put their own in there and their kids are having the joy of working in the dirt and eating what they grew, and I’m rich in that. That’s what my mother and father gave me, you know, and I’m giving it to the next generations.
Talking to God Through Nature
The start of this wasn’t a good start. It was fear of the unknown in our nation, fear of the discrepancy of Black people’s lives in America. It seemed like it just spotlighted that, you know? And in my neighborhood, in this Black, redlined neighborhood, people was dying all over, and I was scared I was going to be one of them, so I paid attention to God. When you’re farming it’s a solitary thing. Down on my knees, preparing the beds for the plants, I just talked to God as I worked the earth, and told him my fears and my worries and what I hope for the future. I have a rule here: take off the cell phones and the iPads, and it’s just me and God and you here. This is just a special place I wanted for my home and I think I created it.
- 1) What activities help you connect with God?
- 2) What are you doing to help those who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19? What is your community doing?
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.