Black History Month: Honoring the Contributions of African-Americans in Horticulture

February is Black History Month, also known as African-American History Month in the U.S., and it’s a monthlong, annual observance in Canada, Ireland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It began as a way for remembering important people and events in the history of the African diaspora.

Thus, as we observe Black History Month in the gardening industry, along with other gardening holidays, we thought now would be a great time to show off just how important the contributions of African-Americans have been to the world of horticulture. Not only is it important to celebrate diversity in horticulture, but it’s necessary if we really want this industry to be the best it can be.

Contributions African-Americans Have Made to Horticulture

If you thought there haven’t been any meaningful contributions by diverse groups to horticulture, you are mistaken. But it’s not really your fault—diversity in horticulture seems to be one of the industry’s best-kept secrets. It’s happening, but we never seem to hear about it. Plus, there are certainly fewer people of color in the industry than there are white people (for a few possible reasons). However African-Americans have made all kinds of strides in this industry, dating all the way back to George Washington Carver’s days. And, no, we’re not just talking about the peanut!

Historical contributions

There is much more to George Washington Carver than the peanut, but much of the general public has no idea. Did you know that, in 1896, George Washington Carver was the Director of the Agriculture Department at Alabama’s Tuskegee University? Even more impressive, Carver was also an advisor to Mahatma Gandhi—discussing nutrition and agriculture. Carver was highly regarded as an agriculture expert during his time, inventing hundreds of products using the peanut, soybeans, and sweet potatoes. Additionally, he was a champion of crop rotation. It’s no wonder even President Roosevelt respected and spoke with Carver regarding his vast agricultural knowledge.

2018 African-American American Horticultural Society Award Winners

Although there has been much under-celebrated diversity in horticulture since Carver’s incredible contributions, there’s certainly no time like the present. To honor the African-Americans shaping today’s horticultural achievements, below are the two African-Americans who were honored as 2018 American Horticultural Society (AHS) award-winners.

Karen Washington: Urban Beautification Award

As a New York City community gardener and activist since 1985, Karen Washington is also a New York Botanical Garden trustee. In this position, she works with neighborhoods in the Bronx to turn empty lots into gardens. In her former role as president of the New York City Community Garden Coalition, she championed garden protection and preservation.

Additionally, Washington is active with the La Familia Verde Garden Coalition, where she’s helping launch a City Farms Market to bring fresh vegetables to the community. She leads workshops on food justice and growing food as a board member of Why Hunger and Just Food, and she’s a co-owner and farmer at Rise & Root Farm. In 2012, Ebony magazine voted Washington as one of the 100 most influential African-Americans in the country, and in 2014, she was received the James Beard Leadership Award.

Kaifa Anderson-Hall: Horticultural Therapy Award

Channeling her experience with social work and community garden development, Kaifa Anderson-Hall started her career in horticultural therapy through her business, Inspired Horticulture Services, Inc., and a non-profit, Plants and Blooms ReImagined. She focuses on enhancing the well-being of diverse and often underserved communities in the greater Washington, D.C. region., working with seniors, veterans, and differently-abled youth and adults in settings such as day programs, nursing and rehabilitation facilities, and schools.

A Master Gardener and graduate of the Horticultural Therapy Institute in Denver, Colorado, Anderson-Hall also designs and consults on the creation of therapeutic gardens. She is active within a variety of organizations including the American Horticultural Therapy Association and Washington D.C.’s School Garden Advisory Council.

Cultivating New Ideas Through Diversity

Progress doesn’t happen without new perspectives, fresh ideas, and varied backgrounds coming together. If you only bring similar minds together, you’ll only yield similar results. Celebrating diversity and championing inclusivity in horticulture is necessary if you want to see the industry continue to grow and achieve new heights. Just imagine where we’d be without the incredible contributions from George Washington Carver. The same could be said even for the most recent trends in gardening.

This Black History Month, be sure to honor those African-Americans making the horticulture industry a better place. And even when February comes to a close, let’s not forget to celebrate all of the diverse cultures that make up the industry!