Reflections on Horticultural Lineage

This is part one in a three-part series about my gardening journey. In this post, I explore some painful truths about gardening in U.S. soil and the ways that violence has disconnected many people from their horticultural lineage.

I come from a lineage of gardeners and farmers, as do so many of us. We are all related to someone who grew or grows food to nourish their family and community. Growing and tending plants for food, medicine, music, clothing, tools, and ceremony is part of our lineage as human beings.

Before I continue with the story of my gardening journey, though, I want to explore a painful reality about farming and gardening in North America.

Painful realities of land access and horticultural lineage on stolen land

For many people, particularly people of color, horticultural lineage is complicated and painful. Reasons could include having ancestors who were slaves on plantations; who were forcibly removed from ancestral homelands; whose horticultural practices such as burning were banned by colonizers; who were taken from their community so that their elders could not teach them their cultural practices; who were sent to concentration camps in the U.S. due to their Japanese heritage, losing their family farms in the process. And these are just some of the atrocities that occurred in North America—there are countless examples of land-based violence related to food ways and horticultural practices that have occurred around the world for generations.

And the reality is that in order for my own lineage of gardeners and farmers to have remained unbroken, for it to be something I connect with in a deeply meaningful way, many people were displaced from their ancestral homelands and disconnected from their own horticultural lineage. The forcible removal of indigenous people from their ancestral homeland in the U.S. allowed people like my ancestors to settle here, start farms, and grow gardens. It allows my family to live here on ancestral land of the Wašiw/Washoe people.

A map of indigenous ancestral lands in North America by native-land.ca. (Source)

When we forget this history—which continues to harmfully affect indigenous people to this day—and when we dismiss the voices of indigenous folks who are seeking access to and protecting their ancestral lands, we are complicit in this theft and continued colonization.

This reality, of course, applies to anyone living in the U.S., but this history is particularly traumatic in the context of land access for horticulture. Indigenous people have been disconnected from the land their family tended for millennia in order for others to move in and grow food on the same land, which in turn made it possible for more people to come to this continent and further displace more people.

To make matters worse, many people today and in this country’s history have been treating this beautiful land violently—with clearcutting, mining, and industrial agriculture that pollutes with insecticides, herbicides, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. The violence of displacement, genocide, slavery, and racism that disconnects people from the land is the same violence that destroys ecosystems, landscapes, and people’s health. (As you can tell, there is so much more to unpack here, but I’ll explore this more another time.)

So what do we do when faced with this reality as people living in the U.S.? We cannot go back in time and prevent this displacement and violence. Feeling so guilty that we become immobilized by anguish and shame is not productive. But we—I—can commit to being conscious of this reality. I can commit to learning ways to make reparations for this historical violence that has allowed my family to live and garden and farm for generations on this continent. I’m still learning about this history, how it affects people today, and how I can use my unique skills and voice and means to advance justice and support the existing efforts led by BIPOC—Black & Indigenous People of Color. I have so much to learn and there is so much to be done—by each of us. I will continue to share about this soon.

With full acknowledgement of this reality and history, I’ll continue with my story in hopes that it provides a better sense of my experience and perspectives on gardening. I also hope that my story resonates with a part of you that is perhaps longing to (re)connect with the earth, yourself, your history, and our collective healing, through gardening.

Read part two of this series here.

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