Braver/Wiser: A Weekly Message of Courage and Compassion

I Am Here, Growing

By Melissa Jeter

“No person is your friend who demands your silence, or denies your right to grow.”
—Alice Walker

The self-determination of both sets of my grandparents helped them survive the Depression. My father’s maternal relatives were skilled craftspeople while owning land and breeding animals. My mother’s maternal relatives owned land in southeastern Ohio. Though I never knew them to live in the country, they were heartbroken to move into the city. As a child, I sat on their front porch with a toy stove. I had some vegetation from which I pulled little green bulbs. As I put them in the pot and stirred, my grandfather parked his blue pickup truck across the street. He was returning from the country where he had been gardening.

The hands of a Black person cradle the new lettuce leaves growing in their garden.

As a tween, I witnessed neighbors in my working-class neighborhood take an empty lot and grow food on it when they were laid off from the steel mill. It always seemed wise action to take, but I realized that I am compelled to do this, too: my personal power lies in growing food.

In my mid-twenties, I read about living off the land. I had to make it work in the city with a raised bed and then a garden plot at church. I even taught myself to can. While some of my uncles worried that I had identity issues, I was canning the Cha Cha spiced green tomato relish that their mother and grandmother made for them when they were children.

My identity now derives from my relationship with the ground around me. Last year, I fought gophers from eating tomatoes in my garden so this year I have a raised bed, plus fencing to keep the gophers out. I now see the squirrels walking on the top of the fence, eying the dirt. I start thinking about a possible war with the squirrels, but I suppose they have to eat too.

Growing provides my life meaning; connects me to a long line of ancestors who had their hands in the dirt because it was keeping them alive. Their work brought me to this life. I am alive. I am fortunate not because I have a backyard, but because I grow in this quiet space of connection to people who brought me to life. The gardening I do harnesses the power within as I connect to the way of my ancestors’ survival. This, too, is religion.

Prayer

Spirit of Life, let the ancestors be realized in me. As I grow and differentiate myself in creation, may I also hold the line that brought me into being. Remind me that I can always harness this power within. Àṣẹ. Blessed be.

About the Author

Melissa Jeter

Melissa Jeter (she/her/hers) is currently a full-time seminarian at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio as well as a full-time librarian in Toledo, Ohio. Melissa is the student minister affiliated with First Unitarian Church of Toledo. She has served on the social justice subcommittee of the...

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