Planting Connections, Planting Hope

Planting Connections, Planting Hope (PCPH) aims to create gardening experiences for and with members of the African Heritage and other historically excluded communities. The Program aims to build connections with the land, enhance health, deepen cultural identity, and empower agency. It proclaims their birthright of connection with healthy land and food. It opens them to gardens within a cultural and historical context and infuses experiences with related story and arts. It provides healing experiences with food and plants and interaction with artists and caring adults. Regina M. Laroche is the Founder and Director of the PCPH Program. 

Planting Connections, Planting Hope is supported in part by the Barnum Fund, the Dr. and Mrs. Bernhard Boecker Charitable Fund, the Community Opportunity Fund, the Ojard Family Fund, and the Carolyn Joy Seitz Family Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation and by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.

Beginnings 

PCPH’s early projects included farm immersion days at Diaspora Gardens (Regina Laroche’s farm on Madeline Island) with youth of color and Steve O'Neil Apartment (SONA) families. The initial programming took root in the SONA family/playscape gardens, in collaboration with SONA’s Family Program Coordinator, Mary Lu Larsen. Programming included garden celebration gatherings that incorporated dance, music, storytelling, gardening and outdoor interactive play activities with families, volunteers, and staff at SONA. Each gathering concluded with a shared meal prepared by SONA staff and volunteers. During the pandemic, Regina Laroche maintained connection with SONA families by adapting activities and leading interactive experiences via Zoom. 

Current Focus 

The current Planting Connections, Planting Hope focus is working in a collaborative partnership to create an African Heritage communal garden and food access project in the Duluth Hillside Neighborhood. The “Giving Garden” Project has been initiated by St Mark AME and Healthy Alliances Matter for All as a culturally relevant response to historical and systemic racism. Regina’s PCPH leadership in initial steps of the collaboration includes guiding project and garden management, grant writing, and networking with community partners. The first phase of the project is to develop and grow a 500 square foot garden in “Bertha’s Garden,” a Duluth Community Garden Program (DCGP) plot at 323 E. 7th Street. During this phase the core partners will invite the Hillside African Heritage community's vision for design of a much larger garden to be built in the future in the Hillside Sport Court. 

How does this relate to justice? 

Many detrimental disparities between Duluth’s historically marginalized communities and the majority population are addressed by the “Giving Garden” Project. The Project uses a communal gardening model to increase access to healthy, culturally relevant foods. It improves well-being by targeting social determinants of health resulting from generations of systemic racism. Racial violence and systemic racism have disconnected communities of color from life-giving relationships with land, healthy food, and neighbors. Generations of these processes result in disproportionate levels of physical, mental, and spiritual health crises in historically excluded communities. 

These are health crises that cannot be easily resolved by treatment at a dominant healthcare facility. The medicine is within the community as it recovers, rediscovers, and regenerates itself within the cauldrons of cultural relevancy. The Giving Garden will be a place that can heal many of the social determinants that are causing the dis-ease in the Hillside. 

How does this relate to the arts? 

Cultural identity, history, food sovereignty skills, community connection, traditional food and garden related arts provide empowerment and continued redress of historical and current injustices. Engaging community in envisioning, designing, developing, and enjoying a communal outdoor gathering space which can provide healthy food, economic and healing opportunities is a core focus of this project. 

Historically and culturally, from an African Heritage context, the arts are not separate from farming, community, work, and policy. They are part and parcel of everyday activities. Planting seeds is complete only with the singing of relevant songs. Re-infusing the arts is repairing the impacts of systemic racism by restoring a traditional understanding of the arts. 

PCPH and the Giving Garden project are seeded out of the voice, dream, needs, and leadership of the African Heritage community with support from cross-racial partnerships.