Yaquana Williams ’21 described how her study abroad and environmental advocacy experience at Pitzer equipped her to support healthy nutrition in her hometown
Black radical farming and food justice are intertwined for Pitzer alumna Yaquana Williams ’21. For her senior thesis in Africana Studies, Williams examined how Black farming collectives across the African Diaspora nurture the land and local communities. Williams was inspired by Black farmers in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey.
“These elders make sure we’re harvesting but also giving back to the land and community,” said Williams. “The farm spaces not only serve as places to get food but also community hubs. People can gather, be in tune with nature, and reclaim those spaces.”
As a Pitzer student, Williams gained a global perspective of Black radical farming when she studied abroad in southern Africa. In Johannesburg, she discovered Bertrams Inner City Farm, a cooperative farm that reminded her of Newark’s farms. When she wanted to research farming for her thesis, her professors supported her.
“My professors were flexible and encouraged me to be a freethinker,” said Williams.
The faculty was not Williams’ only source of support. After being referred by Community Engagement Center Director Tricia Morgan, Williams became a fellow at Pitzer’s Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. There she had conversations about food deserts and food apartheid.
“With a food desert, you’re talking about a community that doesn’t have access to healthy, nutritious food,” said Williams. “Food apartheid takes it a step further and says the separation is intentional.”
Now back in Newark, Williams brings her passions to the city’s youth as a member of FoodCorps—a part of the AmeriCorps Service Network—at the Greater Newark Conservancy site. Here, Williams engages in land and policy advocacy to address the systemic lack of access to healthy food for low-income, marginalized communities.
This mission is especially relevant for Williams after Bertrams Inner City Farm was recently demolished and forced to relocate by city developers. It’s a reminder to Williams of why “land-based organizing and cooperatives are so important to the community and need to be protected.”
The Greater Newark Conservancy connects Williams to Newark Public Schools to assist school-garden initiatives for fourth grade students. Williams incorporates various subjects, from multiplying with vegetables to teaching food history, as she shows students what it means to grow their own food and immerse themselves in outdoor education. In her own time, Williams also hosts herbalism community workshops to explore the medicinal benefits of all plants—even dandelion weeds.
The throughline in Williams’ work is community collaboration, which she was grateful for at Pitzer.
“I had a great support system from all the professors and the people,” said Williams. “If I told them if I was interested in an idea, they helped me flourish.”
Now, Williams strives to create new networks and help her hometown to flourish one farm, one garden, and one plant at a time.