‘Grasping things at the root:’ Abolition activism grows at West End Garden


Max Lubbers/Daily Senior Staffer

Master Gardener Tiffany Christian presses on a soil bed during a clean up of West End Garden on April 3. Youth learned how to weed and plant seeds at the event.

Max Lubbers, Senior Staffer

In a corner of Perry Park, Evanston residents gather to pull out weeds and plant new seeds at West End Garden. But beyond the soil, something else is growing: a community grounded in abolition. 

Master Gardener Tiffany Christian said abolition involves tearing down prisons and getting rid of policing, but it also extends to making land and food accessible. 

“We want to make sure that people live happy, healthy and safe lives,” she said. “Sometimes people think of these issues as very separate, but they address the whole person.”

Organizers of the abolitionist collective Evanston Fight for Black Lives and edible garden group Evanston Grows said they formed West End Garden last May. As the garden approaches its one-year anniversary this spring, organizers said they’re continuing to reimagine gardening as an act of liberation. They said they focus on centering Black residents and their experiences with the environment.

During the winter, organizers created a book club to read about agricultural resistance and Black freedom. Christian said she hopes the garden itself can also serve as a place of healing for Black residents. 

“Land was the site of Black people’s oppression through enslavement, but it also was a site where they could take refuge because gardening is a part of living,” she said. “The ability to grow your own food, be outside and get to know the place you live is very liberatory.”

Since the garden’s opening, organizers said they’ve harvested 300 pounds of produce — a number they’re hoping to beat this year. On April 23, the garden will host a “Build Day” where community members can help construct new soil beds, adding to the current four. 

EFBL Organizer and Co-founder of West End Garden Nia Williams said it’s incredible to see a community spring up around the space. 

“The main reason why I do this work is being able to form connections,” Williams said. “We say ‘grounded in abolition,’ but you can’t always be shouting theory to people. You got to actually do what you’re preaching.”

Providing food is an act of care that’s especially important for food-insecure people, Williams said. Located at 1741 Hovland Court in Evanston’s 5th ward, the garden is in a census tract where 2041 people — about 44% of the tract’s population — are low-income and must travel at least a half-mile to access a supermarket, according to 2019 data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of that 44%, nearly two-thirds are Black. 

Everything grown in the garden is donated to residents, Williams said. Organizers partner with C&W Foundation, which provides free grocery pick-up for older adults. They also stock EFBL community fridges, providing free fresh produce in four locations across Evanston. 

But once weekly harvests begin again, nearby neighbors will get the first pick of food. EFBL came together with Hovland Court residents to establish the garden in the aftermath of neighborhood discussions following a shooting on the street last March. They hoped the park could become a safe zone for neighborhood children.

As organizers resumed in-person gardening early April after their winter hiatus, kids played games in the grass beside them. Neighbors also joined in to help clean up the garden. Fifteen-year-old Nevaeh Ransom said she walked down the street from her Hovland Court home to contribute.

“I hope I get to learn more about gardening,” she said. “I always had the need to just help out and do something.”

The garden also attracts youth from Evanston Township High School, which is less than a 10-minute walk away. For ETHS sophomore Gabi Evans, West End Garden is a place for her to practice her dream career: farming. But it’s also a place where she can care for her community. 

Between pulling out weeds, she reflected on what the word “abolition” means to her. 

“We need to grasp things at the root,” she said, referencing a quote from famous abolitionist Angela Davis. “It’s our best hope. We need a fresh start.” 

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Twitter: @maxlubbers

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