Alumnus Antajuan Adams gardens toward food sovereignty

Alumnus+Antajuan+Adams+stands+smiling+in+front+of+a+mural+painted+at+New+Roots+Urban+Farm.+

Ulaa Kuziez

Alumnus Antajuan Adams stands smiling in front of a mural painted at New Roots Urban Farm.

2000 alumnus Antajuan Adams first became familiar with gardening when he was just seven years old. Learning simple skills from an elder in his community, he found that spending time in nature was enjoyable and valuable. His experiences as a young kid instilled in him an early love for gardening. 

As he got older and learned more about the process and importance of growing food, it became his passion, one that he continues to build upon today through his work at New Roots Urban Farm

“One of my friends, who is 25 years older than me, introduced me to gardening and camping and that really changed my life. Those two things— being outside and going to other places— go a long way in the African American community, because a lot of people who look like me from this area don’t camp, which is one of the healthiest skills and practices you can do as a human,” Adams said.

Adams started in the Parkway District in second grade through the VICC bussing program. As a Black student participating in this newly developed program, he didn’t have many opportunities to participate in the extracurricular activities he was interested in. 

“It was the first time that I was ever exposed to other nationalities so it was a great experience being around different people. I think that’s probably the best experience I got from Parkway,” Adams said. “I was a pretty bright student, but I needed that extra push from adults. I just felt that for the Black students, especially as deseg[regation] kids, it’s a little harder for us to get resources or even just [be] seen as needing resources.”

Adams grew up in a single-parent household and being the oldest of eight kids, he had additional responsibilities outside of school, like working to support himself and his family.  When he turned 17 during his junior year, Adams left school to work full time. Six months later, he got his GED certification and began taking business courses at a local community college. 

“Since I was in third grade, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. That used to be my favorite word. I wanted to be in advertising and own my own business and now I do, through Kiss My Buttons and New Roots, Adams said.

Farmer Antajuan Adams sits in between rows of leafy greens and strawberries and gets ready to harvest spinach leaves to give to a volunteer.
(Ulaa Kuziez)

After gardening on and off on his own, in 2014, he officially joined New Roots, becoming the second and longest-serving Black collective member of the farm. New Roots has been in operation for nearly 21 years, with the leadership often being majority white. Living in the primarily Black Old North City neighborhood where the farm is located, he walked by the land numerous times as a kid but often felt that it was off-limits to him. 

“This food was grown by white people and was given to white people who could afford it. And on whose land? This is not my land either. This is indigenous land. It created a rough period and I got frustrated. I started bringing this up in collective meetings that we got to change this practice and start to educate Black and brown folks. The old collective members did not have the energy for it. They were annoyed at me for bringing up this,” Adams said.

After the previous collective member left this season, Adams alongside another new member has been trying to further shift the farm’s mission toward a space that centers and supports the local community while working toward food sovereignty by reclaiming local power in the food system.

“What made me really fall in love with the place is land justice and food sovereignty. That’s the reason why I really like farming. That’s my passion nowadays is just educating Black and brown folk how easy this stuff [is that] they could be doing on their own. You’re not gonna get rich doing this but you can create a super healthy lifestyle that could change your life,” Adams said. 

Once you start growing your own fruits and veggies and creating your own food, that’s like a wild shift in your life that everybody should be doing. I just feel like it is the biggest way to understand freedom.”

— Antajuan Adams

In the past, Adams has given talks at local middle and elementary schools to teach young students about farming and animals. New Roots is planning to host more educational workshops about food justice as well as a youth farming camp this summer. 

“Just this year we had 15 Black and brown kids and more adults that never held a chicken in their whole lives or even come close to it. It is baffling, to a certain extent but I was in a situation myself so I know how it is. It’s just so cool and exciting to see,” Adams said.

New Roots is currently open on Tuesdays and Saturdays when volunteers come to work the land. The farm relies on small donations from community members and with plans to donate more fresh produce to local families, the collective members hope to raise money over the summer to sustain their goal.

“I think it’s just the coolest that we grow all this stuff and as long as we got the water and electricity bills paid, we can give this stuff away. People that love supporting these types of operations, who love eating locally [grown], organic stuff, that if we can get those good folks to buy our stuff or donate to us, then we can pay the bills and then we can give the rest of this stuff away to people who need [them],” Adams said.

Looking to the future, Adams envisions New Roots to be a flourishing community space that empowers youth to learn about land and food justice. Just as it changed his life when he was young, he hopes to help more people understand their relationship to the land around them.

“Black people did garden before we got away from it and society made it seem like this is a white person type thing, that it is so far removed from us, that we can’t do it or it’s weird that we do it, but it’s the beginning of our freedom,” Adams said. “Once you start growing your own fruits and veggies and creating your own food, that’s like a wild shift in your life that everybody should be doing. I just feel like it is the biggest way to understand freedom.”