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Sowers and Reapers: Gardening in an Era of Change (2018-2019)

Gardening is often seen as an apolitical relaxation pursuit. Yet in a time when neighborhoods are rapidly changing, gardens have become a place of race and politics, where history, contention, expression, resistance and negotiation meet. At the same time, the presence of an immigrant work force—landscaping companies largely staffed by migrant Latinos—means that the country’s divided opinions over immigration are at play among the plants. There is also a hidden kind of migration in the types of plants home gardeners buy for their gardens: Home Depot, Lowe’s and other big stores import plants from Mexico, Colombia and other countries, ensuring an ecosystem shift toward non-native species.

This project team sought to bring humanities tools to the issue of environmental justice and migration. Drawing on human rights approaches, oral history, gardening history, documentary photography, digital mapping and exhibit curation, team members documented how Durham residents in the College View, West End and Watts-Hillandale neighborhoods are engaging with issues around climate change, environmental justice and gentrification through their gardens.

Throughout the year, the team visited local community gardens and partnered with the Humanities Action Lab (HAL) and over 20 other universities to produce an exhibit on environmental justice and climate change. The team contributed 20 photographs (with accompanying text), quotes from interviews, student essays, audio excerpts and video to the exhibit, which opens in New York in Fall 2019.

The team also created a Durham-specific exhibit (Sowers and Reapers: Building Change in Durham Gardens from the Ground Up) including eight panels that feature text and photos. The exhibit will travel throughout various Duke and Durham public spaces.


Fall 2018 – Summer 2019  

Team Outputs

Blossom Garden Club (essay by Spencer Ganus, Clare McKenzie, Matthew Sima, Shom Tiwari)

Sowers and Reapers: Briggs Community Garden (essay by Sharmi Amin, Grace Chun, Alyssa Cleveland, Will Graham, Emma Herold)

8 Things I Didn’t Know: What a Historic Garden Club in Durham Can Teach Us About Life, History and Addressing Climate Change (essay by James Robinson, Caroline Kealoha, Rachel Radvany, Surafel Adere)

Project team website

This Team in the News

Gardening for Social Change: Exploring Environmental Justice in Durham Gardens

How the Franklin Humanities Institute Enhanced One Graduate Student’s Education

These Ph.D. Graduates Incorporated Bass Connections into Their Doctoral Education

Updates from Environmental Justice Bass Connections Teams

Bass Connections Class Based at the DHRC Looks at Community Gardens for Environmentally Sustainable Solutions

Farming as Experiential Learning: An Interview with Saskia Cornes

Looking at Durham Community Gardens for Environmentally Sustainable Solutions

Garden planted in bathtub.

Team Leaders

  • Robin Kirk, Arts & Sciences-Cultural Anthropology
  • Barbara Lau, Franklin Humanities Institute

/graduate Team Members

  • Giulia Ricco, Romance Studies-PHD, Romance Studies-AM

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Caroline Kealoha, History (AB)
  • Sierra Winters, Cultural Anthropology (AB)
  • Shom Tiwari, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Christopher Teufel, Biology (BS)
  • Daniel Song, Computer Science (AB)
  • Matthew Sima, Biology (BS)
  • James Robinson, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Elena McNiece, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Clare McKenzie, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Surafel Adere, Public Policy Studies (AB)
  • Emma Herold, Sustainability Engagement
  • Will Graham, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Spencer Ganus, GCS in Literature Program (AB)
  • Jordan Dozier, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • James Daubert, Computer Science (AB)
  • Alyssa Cleveland, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Grace Chun, Visual and Media Studies (AB)
  • Sharmi Amin, Environmental Sci/Policy (AB)
  • Rand Alotaibi, Earth & Ocean Sciences (BS)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Saskia Cornes, Franklin Humanities Institute
  • Mayme Webb-Bledsoe, Office of Durham & Regional Affairs

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Valerie Johnson, Bennett College
  • Elizabeth Shulman, Durham County Library
  • Pauli Murray Center for Social Justice
  • Tim Stallmann, Counter Cartographies/SAVAS