ENGLEWOOD — Kendrick Lamar is blasting through the speakers on the Sistas In The Village farm as co-founders Mecca Bey and Nyabweza “Bweza” Itaagi tend to patches of collards and okra.
Since May, the founders have been working daily on their 1-acre plot at 5800 S. Ada St. through blazing heat and rain to grow a sustainable farm that will provide fresh food and a respite for neighbors in Englewood.
Sistas In The Village started “in the heart of the pandemic” in May 2020 to sustain communities like Englewood that had limited access to healthy, fresh food when they needed it most, Bey said.
In the past two years, Bey and Itaagi have moved to the Ada Street location and created an inclusive space that prioritizes physical and spiritual healing. Their work is just getting started, they said.
Soon, neighbors will be able to visit the farm to shop for fresh produce, including watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers and potatoes. Families can feed one another on the holidays with the black-eyed peas, mustard greens and cabbage growing there and add hibiscus and lemon bombs to their teas from the farm’s Ancestor Circle.
“We want this to be a space where people feel welcome and everyone walks in and feels like they’re family,” Itaagi said. “It’s called Sistas In The Village, but this is for everyone.”
‘We’re Bridging Generational Gaps’
Itaagi and Bey founded Sistas In The Village at a farm incubator in South Chicago.
Urban Growers Collective, a Black- and women-led nonprofit that builds equitable food systems, was hosting a program called Farmers for Chicago, Bey said.
The experience was amazing, with Black and Brown farmers working collaboratively on a 7-acre site, “growing food and jamming out,” Bey said.
Bey and Itaagi already knew each other through their work with Grow Greater Englewood, a community organization that develops local food economies. Itaagi is a lead steward for the Englewood Nature Trail; Bey as lead steward of Englewood Village Farmer Collective.
Their time at Urban Growers Collective was “a true sisterhood,” Itaagi said. The two bonded over their similar passions and mission to make sure people were fed in the community during the height of the pandemic, she said.
“Sistas In The Village came out of the love to be able to support young women of all ages and walks of life,” Bey said. “We’re bridging generational gaps.”
Bey and Itaagi ran Sistas In The Village in South Chicago for two years, Bey said. Bey wanted to branch off from Urban Growers Collective’s land and create a community garden.
But Erika Allen, CEO at the organization — and Bey’s mentor — encouraged her to start a sustainable farm of her own.
Safia Rashid, the founder of Your Bountiful Harvest, had a space in Englewood she could no longer run, Bey said. Bey and Itaagi told Rashid “it would be an honor to pick up the torch” and complete the vision she envisioned for the land, Bey said.
The duo moved to their new home in Englewood in April.
Sistas In The Village has been at their Englewood farm for less than two months, but their “babies” are flourishing, Itaagi said.
They laid an 18-inch layer of woodchips above a thick cloth barrier on the soil “so water can still go through, but the contamination can’t come up,” Itaagi said.
In the farm’s center is the Ancestor Circle, a sacred ground that honors the generations of families that paved the way for Black farmers. Hibiscus, rosemary, sage, calendula and tobacco from Uganda — Itaagi’s home — grow there.
Bey said the work gives them the opportunity to find empowerment and pride in work that once was used to enslave Africans and Black Americans.
“We understand that there’s a lot of trauma behind farming for our culture, but we’ve taken the opportunity to listen and be intentional and pray and meditate to listen to our ancestors,” Bey said. “ … We’re using that as a healing mechanism to reclaim our rights as owners of this land, Indigenous people, and allowing our ancestors to continue to guide us.”
The work is strenuous, rewarding, calming and necessary all at once, Itaagi and Bey said. You might also catch the duo belting out lyrics to songs or pausing for a “twerk break,” Itaagi said.
The farm is a peaceful place where everyone is welcome to be their most genuine selves, Itaagi said.
“Growing food is a reminder of care in all forms,” Itaagi said. “As humans, we are oftentimes fighting with each other. There’s so much anger in humanity. But being with the earth is a reminder that we don’t have to carry that anger or trauma if there is a safe space for us to relieve it.”
Together, they are building a new kind of generational wealth that can’t be measured with a dollar sign, Bey said. Generations of families can come to the farm to nourish themselves and their loved ones, Bey said.
“The village mindset of everyone taking care of one another and the collective nature of a village is what we wanted to invoke here,” Itaagi said. “We’re about intergenerational, interracial and cultural connections to have a space where everyone can come and feel like they are safe and part of the village.”
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