The History Of Slave Gardens And How They Supported Our Survival

black florist arranging fresh flowers
Briona Lamback
March 7, 2024

Whitewashed history created the myth that enslaved people weren't anything more than field hands. But our people were skilled, bringing centuries of agricultural knowledge across the Atlantic.

Only their hands could produce cash crops like sugar, coffee, and chocolate. In South Carolina, rice cultivation was possible because of deep expertise in its cultivation practices by groups like the Mende of Sierra Leone. Historians say our people carried the grain across the Atlantic by tucking it into their braids.

Plantation owners rationed food based on productivity, so enslaved people often went hungry—whoever worked the hardest and produced the most received more and better food. Starvation was a constant threat. Enslaved people leaned on ancestral knowledge while adapting to new soil to tend to their gardens in the struggle to stay alive.

Foraging, fishing, hunting, raising livestock, and growing vegetables like yams sustained our people. Cowpeas were used in ceremonies and acted as a vessel of connection to their homelands. 

These self-made gardens helped keep their community when the system they lived within refused to. "Slave gardens represented independent production grounds and can be understood as a strategy of resistance to a corrupt system and an effort to create food security."

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