Grow Food Northampton’s Community Garden is located on historical abolitionist land which was home to self-emancipated and free blacks during the 1840s. The land and the peoples are the focus of the David Ruggles Center, as their mission is to “honor the contributions made to the abolition of slavery by courageous individuals in the Connecticut River Valley of Massachusetts.”
Among the David Ruggles Center’s various efforts to commemorate those who sought freedom, equality, and the end of slavery, the Ruggles Center sponsors events, has guided walking tours, exhibits, and more. Tom Goldschedider is a longtime member of our community garden, as well as an historian and Ruggles Center committee member. Tom proposed a collaboration between our two organizations that would grow crops that had been experimentally produced by abolitionists in Florence in the 1840’s in an effort to create markets for products that could replace products that relied on slave labor, such as sugar and cotton. While the original project did not result in viable businesses, it provides valuable lessons on the history of resistance and reminds us of the ways in which our land has been used in the past to achieve social change. Bridget MacNeill, a Smith College Botanic Garden intern who was looking for a special project to work on, turned out to be the perfect person to help move this effort forward!
To learn more about this project, we sent one of our Interns to chat with Bridget to learn more. Here is what we found!
Bridget MacNeill is a rising junior at Smith College, majoring in Environmental Studies and Policy. Through prior experience leading walking tours for the Soujourner Truth Memorial Committee, she took on the Ruggles plot as her special project at her Smith College Botanical Garden internship. Bridget commits 8 hours per week to the Ruggles plot, where she maintains a garden full of sugar beets, broom corn, and flax. These crops are grown to reflect upon a historically-driven alternative agricultural economy that did not use slave labor, specifically for the growing of cane sugar. The plot is used to advance the Ruggles Center mission through uplifting local history in Florence, a predominantly white community, which has strong African American roots and history. When these crops are harvested they will be used to demonstrate historical processing methods of the period. Also, any beets that aren’t utilized will be fed to a goat and the beet heads will be eaten like a chard.