It’s May 1st, International Workers Day, and I’m sitting at my kitchen counter waiting for a 20 foot box truck to arrive. When it does, the other members of Cuir Kitchen Brigade and myself will offload about 100 milk crates filled with dirt, ready to become a part of gardens in the homes of residents in Bushwick and Bedford Stuyvesant.
We are the last of three stops this truck is making. Its first and second were Kings Manor Museum located in Jamaica, Queens and Universe City in East New York, Brooklyn in which a total of 326 milk crates were distributed.
This journey began at JFK airport, where last week a group of 12 of us spent a total of six hours clipping zip ties and liberating the unused crates in order to encourage what has now become over 600 individuals across the five boroughs and New Jersey to start feeding themselves and their neighbors. This garden was in use for five years, its crops serving the restaurants inside of terminal five, before it stopped running. Through various relationships with organizations we were notified of its impending disposal and decided to repurpose it by distributing the crates to residents of New York. These crates are equipped with liners and filled with clean soil. This work is in collaboration with Cuir Kitchen Brigade, Reclaim Seed, The Curb Banquet, Sajo Jefferson, Sawdayah Brownlee and Lucy Lesser. Together we are known as the Milk Crate Collective.
As individuals who are constantly on the frontlines, from working in Boriken after hurricane Maria to feeding people at the border, our work in food sovereignty centers the lives of Q/T/BIPOC. Cuir Kitchen Brigade was formed responding to a crisis situation, born out of the necessity to feed Boricuas after the hurricane. Since then our mission has expanded to include frontline communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change and disaster.
As a group of Queer and Trans BIPOC we have always felt the call of duty to help our communities survive, to reconnect with land, heal our traumas and to frame food soveriegnty through a healing justice lens. So when Covid-19 started and we began to see the impact it had on the BIPOC community we couldn’t help but to get to work.
Two weeks ago we had a line of over 100 people outside of my home – in what is now functioning as our HQ – waiting for us to hand out seedlings, compost and seeds. The line of individuals stretching to the corner as everyone observed the 6 feet distance rule, all of them donning their PPE. As individuals, families and elderly folks crossed the street to our table asking what was available we witnessed the joy on their faces when given the tools they need for their own liberation, for our collective liberation.
We have mailed seed kits across the U.S. and the Carribean and through social media have been fortunate enough to see those seed kits transform the lives of people. One of the people who was sent a seed kit told us that this season two black five year old girls, her daughters, would be planting their first garden in Cincinnati, OH with those seeds. This DIY Urban Gardening Zine illustrated by Ollie Montes De Oca and written by me during this pandemic has been shared and archived as a resource for individuals we are not able to reach through other channels. My living room floor is covered in boxes filled with seeds, my backyard has a greenhouse for seedlings and my home – while always existing to serve the people – is doing so even more now.
Throughout this pandemic Cuir Kitchen Brigade’s goal has been to focus on the long term. Our communities have lots of needs right now and individuals are mobilizing in many ways. Our way is a commitment to long lasting change, to self-sufficiency, to inter-dependence and to creating the world we want to see.
COMMUNITY CHECK is a series about mutual aid and taking care of each other in the time of coronavirus.