Part way through an interview discussing his experience with urban renewal and community building, Christian Man, puts the journalist on hold.
“I’ve just got to deliver these groceries,” he says, and in the muffled distance he can be heard discussing the upcoming harvest feast with a fellow named Walter, who must be part of the Green Leaf Learning Farm’s community garden project.
Walter is on the hook for some sweet-potato pie, it seems, and in both of their voices rings the sound of enthusiasm.
The harvest feast is shaping up to be a pretty good time where the community can come together and honor each other’s hard work and the relationships that have been sown in the neighborhood’s garden.
Christian is very much looking forward to it.
As an eager student, Christian has been working with Rev. Marlon Foster and Knowledge Quest, which has operated the learning farm project since 2010. Through this work, he is connected to Communities of Shalom and the Center for Transforming Communities.
His undergraduate studies focused on community economic development, but his real learning has come through the friendships he’s forged through his work in south Memphis.
Times are tough for people in the neighborhood where Christian walks, but in them he sees resilience and a capacity through togetherness that speaks loudly of possibilities and community transformation.
He’s come alongside these new friends as he tills earth, breaks bread, and learns what it means to come together for a common purpose.
The co-operative spirit grows in the garden alongside fresh vegetables, and though purse strings are tight for many people, among their neighbors they find an abundance of generosity and connectivity.
“There’s a history of this; I’m involved in the most recent chapter but in no way is this my thing,” Christian says.
“It’s our thing.”
The garden has become a gathering point for people to share their stories, he says.
“It's a physical space that helps generate reflection about what’s actually going on and then what that activity reminds us of, historically, and that bonds us in some way.”
On Oct. 20 about 75 people will come together to share a meal and the bounty of the relationships they’ve built, and Christian is thankful to be a part of it.