Guest Feature

Chris Bolden

Meet Chris Bolden

Chris Bolden-Newsome grew up in a social justice household, the oldest son of small-scale organic farmers and food sovereignty organizers Demalda Bolden-Newsome and Rufus Newsome, Sr. The Bolden-Newsome family comes from the Mississippi Delta though Chris' parents currently farm in North Tulsa, Oklahoma. Chris has been involved in community organizing and education since the age of 13, first as a teacher’s assistant in ESL programming and later through his involvement in issues of immigrants’ rights, all in the southwest region of the U.S. Chris worked for five years with city and community based agencies in HIV prevention and public health education as an outreach educator to homeless and difficult-to-access communities of color in Dallas, Texas and later in Washington, DC. He also has a background in teaching as a before and after school instructor of Spanish, French and English for literacy in DC public schools. Always fascinated by growing food, Chris got involved in food justice initially in Washington, DC by starting backyard gardens while studying anthropology at Howard University from 2001-2004. Chris briefly relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2008 to work with his family's farm, neighborhood, and tribal entities to increase access and food awareness in low wealth communities of color in the Tulsa area. While working in Tulsa, Chris designed and implemented curriculum for Food Sovereignty programming for youth connected to Newsome Community Farms. In 2008, Chris moved to South West Philadelphia where he co-directs a youth-based community farm and food sovereignty program.

Interview with Chris Bolden

Akilah: What changes and impacts have you seen in Philadelphia’s southwest community?

Chris: In the last two years, I have seen some powerful and important changes in the community. The community garden, for example, Bartram Garden, is 3 ½ acres of orchards, with fruit trees, crop field (food for market). This is the most noticeable. People from ages 6-95 have signed up to work in the garden. There was a great response from the adjoining housing complex. It has been such a blessing. Growing up, I never knew anyone who didn’t grow food. It was exciting to see people 60 and 70 years old excited about growing food. Before, there was no nutrition base in the community, but there is now. We have classes, and new faces are always showing up. We want people to know about growing food and what to do with it. We can and preserve. The relationship building has been the best.

Akilah: Do you come from a family of farmers?

Chris: Yes, and so do you. I come from 3 generations of farmers, 1 free farming family and the rest sharecroppers. My family is still farming in Oklahoma. Mississippi is where we started. The migration north was sort of the end of that experience. My experience in the garden was with my grandmother. She showed me how to pick, how to tend to plants. We had a tendency to move away from farming as a lifestyle when we migrated north, but it is still my lifestyle

Akilah: How would you describe your relationship with the earth?

Chris: Conflicted, because I live on earth, I am an earth worker, but because I am very aware of my impact as a farmer. The way that farming was done, it was and is doing major damage to the earth. The desertification of the Sahara is a result of farming practices. I have to continuously look for a balance, especially with the growing world population. Farming in and of itself can be destructive. We have to think about sustainable farming. I feel that the earth is my home, and the earth is my mother. I have a deep connection with natural processes. Growing food and foraging and passing that on to people is my joy, the connection and sharing.

Akilah: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from working in the community?

Chris: The amount of work that needs to be done is incredible, and the shift that needs to happen is great. I did not anticipate the serious cultural shift that needs to happen within the consciousness of the people in the community. The connection to the earth and gardening and farming has been lost….“words” and cultural differences, food vocabulary, economic systems and gender roles. There are people in the community who think breastfeeding is gross. A fundamental change needs to occur.

Akilah: What are some of your greatest joys from working and teaching in the community garden?

The people who come to the community garden bring me the highest joy, the people who have survived and who want to help others survive. The Miss Hazel’s and Mr. John’s who are helping children in the garden. And the children who take part in the nutrition initiative are just precious.

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