Omopé Carter Daboiku: Reclaiming a Community’s Agricultural Heritage
The Edgemont Solar Garden on Miami Chapel Road has a long history on Dayton’s West Side. Lately it’s experienced a regeneration of sorts, with partners like Central State University and Agraria in Yellow Springs joining in to support urban agriculture.
Community producer Jaylon Yates once worked there as an AmeriCorps member. He spoke with fellow producer, Omopé Carter Daboiku, affectionately known as Mama O. Along with being a storyteller and folklorist, Mama O is the farm manager. They talked about growing food and community at the Solar Garden.
On her passion for growing food
First of all, it keeps me in right relationship with my people. I grew up a kid whose grandparents knew about food, whose parents grew food. My daddy didn't participate in growing food, he was too busy fixing cars, but I can remember chickens in my Grandpa Carter's backyard. And then on Friday night, there'd be chickens in the bathtub. And then on Sunday morning, there’d be chicken in the pot with dumplings. And he grew hogs, and that's how he was able to sustain his family of 11 growing children. Then it's just the self-satisfaction of being a part of creation. You know, it's such an easy way to invigorate your own sense of accomplishment, to lower your produce bills in the summer.
And my great aunties, all canned and made jam and jelly, and soup and put it in their cellars. So even as a small kid, I had a great understanding and a deep appreciation for being able to eat fresh peaches in the middle of winter, you know, nothing like fresh peach pie on New Year's Day.
On the work of the Edgemont Solar Garden
The first work has been getting the people on the board back with their hands in the soil. So we now have three cinder block rows out here in addition to the incubator farm that Central sponsors, and we've had five community members growing in that, then all the board members help assist with the crops that are in the greenhouse.
My long range goal is to replace all of us. ‘Cause we're all over 60, with the oldest one is in her eighties. So we need to see young people, people 50 and under, come and learn what it is that we know and help keep this legacy alive. We have to have this in our neighborhood to continue to teach people how to grow food, to reclaim our heritage of agriculture as an art form and a career option. And I'd love to work with more young people to help them understand that the way to become an old person is to eat well so that you can prosper.
On the challenges facing Edgemont Solar Garden
Well, the first challenge was we had all this land and not enough energy to farm it.
When Central State came and brought their incubator program, we had over 20 people who were in the program. Those individuals had a lot of passion and a lot of enthusiasm, but they were neophyte neophytes.
They had never opened up this much earth, planned a crop, worked the land to a harvest, and created a distribution plan. It was overwhelming, but it was a great experience because it gave everybody a different appreciation for the kind of discipline and focus that it takes to nurture food and to the point where it's mature and then recognizing when it's ready to go to market.
So next year, we're going to run the program again. We've recognized that long row growing is not in our cultural frame as African-Americans reclaiming our cultural heritage on the land, that we work better when we use the principles of the Nguzo Saba that we talk about at Kwanzaa, that collective work and responsibility and cooperative economics and unity, and understanding our purpose.
So we're going to use patch growing, so that everybody will focus on tomatoes together. Everybody will focus on watermelon together. Everybody will focus on green beans. And we’re thinking about maybe growing a patch of corn, because corn grows well when it's tight, like family.
West Dayton Stories is produced at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices and is supported by CityWide Development Corporation.