Lisa Freeman: Healing Community through Urban Gardening

Who is Lisa Freeman?

A “badass social worker” of 35+ years.  Founder and CEO of the Manchester Growing Together Farm. Founder and Proprietor of the Freeman Family Farm. “Unbought and unbossed,” just like her hero, Shirley Chisolm.  Lisa is a soldier for the people at heart.

“Everything I say is what I mean. If I said it, I’mma stand up to it.” “I’m not a friend of politicians because I call them out, I look for ways to be on a microphone or a television to call them out.”

Lisa’s Work in the Community

Grounded’s (then GTECH) relationship with Lisa Freeman began in 2013 with her green-up program and school community garden at Manchester Elementary School (MEC) in Manchester. The garden received initial funding for two years from Grounded’s ReClaim Northside Ambassadors program and the office of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and continued for an additional three years. Lisa describes the garden as “the Garden of Eden” and “center of goodwill”. Seniors in the community would arrive just before the crack of dawn to clean and pick okra, leading to intergenerational transfers of wisdom as they taught the young around them to prepare this cultural stable of African diasporic cuisines. Sidenote: Okra was transported to the Americas via captive Africans during the Transatlantic Slave Trade and remains a staple in prominent Black cuisine across the global diaspora. (Source 1, Source 2). The “center of goodwill” sustained the Manchester community in body and spirit for five years, creating a haven for the most vulnerable of her community: children, the elderly, and those whom society had otherwise given up on. For five years, the garden ran on a zero-budget, meaning it garnered no profitable revenue; this labor was performed in the gesture of a selfless and transformative love.

Lisa Freeman in front of a signature rooster mural at her farm!

In the fifth year of the garden, Lisa’s peace was shattered: the garden was destroyed, plants stolen and uprooted. So Lisa quit. One can only imagine the devastation; what would possess someone to trample on holy, generous ground? Located in the middle of a historically disinvested neighborhood and a neighborhood with $500k homes, Lisa’s garden was a direct intervention to food apartheid, the insidious redlining of healthy, affordable food access from Black and low-income communities of color. In an interview with The Guardian, Karen Washington of Rise & Root Farm explained food apartheid as “[looking] at the whole food system, along with race, geography, faith, and economics. . . It brings us to the more important question: What are some of the social inequalities that you see, and what are you doing to erase some of the injustices?” Lisa’s garden sat across the street from MEC, one of the lowest-income schools in the Pittsburgh district. This Manchester “Garden of Eden”, so lovely it was, was vandalized by who could only be thought of as misguided enemies to the cause.

“Everything that’s untrue, with local politicians, with drugs, with gun violence, I come hard and true against it. It’s generally us that need to address this sorta thing. It’s those in our leadership, elected people, who allow it to fester until someone is shot and killed, and then they want to call a meeting. Lisa is about right, I don’t care what color it is  — I want to live in peace. I want to enjoy life. I want our kids to grow up and know how to be empowered and live for themselves–cook your own food, grow your own food, make a business out of it, be somebody, go further. [Life] is not just limited to these four corners.”

Since then, Lisa has purchased the property and expanded to be the proprietor of the non-profit Manchester Growing Together Farm and her for-profit business, Freeman Family Farm & Greenhouse. The new site of the farm is located at 1426 Juniata St., near the intersection of Chateau St. “Our goal is to help our community during this time of uncertainty. We’ve worked with a lot of people in our past to develop community, that’s really what we do at our farm.” Lisa continues to create centers of goodwill, where the community’s most vulnerable find respite. “We work with the kids who wear ankle bracelets in the Community Intensive Supervision Program (CISP), pregnant mothers and women who are going to the methadone clinic every day; they stop in and seek a calming area and develop friendships and bonds because often their families have given up on them because of addiction. We have a lot of informal relationships with people on the autism spectrum to give them a space to be themselves and be free to enjoy nature without any judgment or gawking.”

Ways to Invest and Support Lisa’s Work

We thank Lisa for the transformative gift of her openness and honesty, and for sharing the wisdom of her life experiences. In return, we want to highlight her work in the community and invite our supporters to extend that same support and investment into Lisa Freeman.

Thanks to her partners at Neighborhood Allies, you can find Lisa at FreemanFamilyFarm.net. There’s some information up, but still a need for more content. Why? Because Lisa does not have the time. It’s been so hot, and she’s been spending extra time tending to the garden to ensure its survival. You can contact and offer up your services to help her get all the relevant information on her site.

Also, thanks to a grant from the USDA, the farm is building a large hoop house to help with the production of produce. The biggest thing Lisa needs right now is a carpenter to help finish the hoop house, and developing a prototype growing technique to keep food growing through the winter. 

 

 

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