NYBG's "Rooted in Plants" educates visitors on African American contributions to gardening, cooking

Sandra Bookman Image
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
NYBG's "Rooted in Plants" educates visitors for Black History Month
Rooted in Plants aims is to teach children how people of African descent have contributed to our understanding and use of plants around the world. Sandra Bookman has the story.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The New York Botanical Garden is celebrating Black history month the best way it knows how, by showcasing the influences the community has had on the foods we eat and the spices we use.

The gardens are also focusing the spotlight on the achievements of African Americans who have lifted gardening and the understanding of plants to new levels.

Rooted in Plants is just one small part of the New York Botanical Garden's Black History Month programming.

It's aim is to teach children how people of African descent have contributed to our understanding and use of plants around the world.

For example, kids learn coffee comes from Ethiopia, cowpeas-- also known as black-eyed peas-- and okra originated in Africa too.

"Our contributions are through plants and food and herbal medicine," said Arvolyn Hill with the NYBG Children's Adventure Garden. "Showing kids all this amazing history that they might have not learned in school is really empowering."

In addition to the hands-on activities for children, there's also plenty for people of all ages, both in person in the Bronx and online.

From the struggles of Black farmers to the contributions of Black scientists and culinary creatives from across the African diaspora.

"We see people of all different races, genders come here and it's really wonderful," Hill said. "To see people come here specifically for programming that they feel like reflects their personal identity."

Also reflected, is the inextricable link between Black history and American history-- as spotlighted in the story of vanilla.

Like the story of Edmond Albuis, an enslaved 12-year-old living on a plantation on the island of Reunion just off the east coast of Africa.

"This is really fascinating because it's about a little boy who was enslaved since birth and he was able to discover something incredible," said Ashley Saliasi a NYBG Teen explainer. "Which is how to polinate vanilla."

He figured out how to hand-pollinate the orchid species vanilla planifolia -- initiating the global trade of what would become one of the world's most popular spices.

"It's good to recognize this underated history especially since a lot of the credit is given to white people," NYBG Teen Explainer Faiza Chowdhury said.

The New York Botanical Garden is doing it's part to both educate and illuminate our shared history.

ALSO READ| Grandmaster Flash talks about the origins of hip-hop this Black History Month


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