Fields of change: Urban gardens for social justice

Tanya Fields

Tanya Fields

Too many of us presume that nature is out there, far away in a National Park or in some distant foreign land. Many of us who live in cities especially never truly realize that nature is all around us every day of our lives. We probably take for granted the importance of fresh drinking water, clean air and access to nutritious sustainably produced food. Tanya Fields aims to change that.

Formerly a hip-hop artist and spoken word poet, Fields now works as the operations manager of the Majora Carter Group, a green-economic development organization in New York City. In her Bronx neighborhood Fields has started a community garden to provide healthy dietary choices for her community and give her family a natural setting to engage in an active lifestyle outdoors.  She’s also fighting for social justice in an effort to claim the environmental rights of people disenfranchised by a legacy of racial discrimination and urban poverty.
Introduced to the Joy Trip Project by Chagents, an online social network sponsored by the outdoor footwear and apparel brand Timberland, Fields tells her story in this interview.

How does a “mom from the boogie down” who lives in the most urban of environments become an environmental? What was the path that brought you to do the work you do?

It is exactly the fact that I live in an urban area that propelled me to do this work. I live in an area that is a litmus test for when environmental racism goes unchecked. My kids have swollen adenoids, asthma and we all battle bronchitis every year. So it was my love of my children and my desire to leave them a legacy of fresh air that initially got me into this work.

What is the real problem when it comes to getting fresh food into your community? Why is your program to create an urban farm even necessary?

The real problem believe it or not is access, which is insane because we live near the 2nd largest produce terminal in the world. Creating this farm is imperative because it then breaks down the barriers to access. It’s also important because as disenfranchised folks we have some very interesting thoughts on our rights to the land. Taking a piece of neglected land that the city has done nothing went for whatever reasons is the ultimate tool of empowerment and allows people to feel truly invested in the community in which they live.

What is Mothers on the Move? How did you first become involved in that organization?

Mothers on the Move is a fantastic member based organization that initially gave me the confidence and opportunity to do this work. They were the first folks to ask me what I planned on doing about the crap that I saw happening in my community. It was said without condescension or mocking. They were for real. Then they gave me the tools and the support and the encouragement. They are in essence part of my family. Mad love to them. I became involved because I was standing outside the storefront scared to go in. Wanda, who is very physically imposing said to be in her Nuyorican (a blending of the terms “New York” and “Puerto Rican”) South Bronx accent, “why you standing outside? Come in and talk to me”. There was no way I was telling this woman no and it is the best choice I ever made. That one decision changed the trajectory of my life. That freaks me out sometimes, how life can be so random or at least we think it is. Maybe it was destiny but now I am rambling lol

You used to be hip-hop artist and a spoken word poet. How does your talent for art, music and poetry inform your work as an environmental activist? How do you combine them today?

Hahahahah James you blowing up my spot. I was an emcee in “another life” the flagrant misogyny that existed in that world got the better of me and I decided I could be involved in the world in other ways. I still hit the spoken word scene every once in awhile but not with the type of dedication I used to. I see that the arts especially Hip-Hop could be MONUMENTAL in moving the social justice movement forward. Hip-hop just has to be deprogrammed first. LOL I mean you got great artists out there who get it, like Rebel Diaz and Hassan Salam, I just wish you saw that on the mainstream platform.
Hip Hop was created to be a sounding board for disenfranchised poor Black kids from the streets. But it had the echoes and influence of our ancestors, the griots (historians, storytellers, traditional praise singers and musicians) of Africa, the poets of the 70’s, all that played a role. So of course it is perfect and ripe to be the sounding call for social justice. As I move forward I am always looking for ways to use the platform when appropriate to sound off on the things that affect us. I am currently planning my urban farm “party” I hope to get many of the social justice groups out to perform.

You have a new venture called the BLK, Inc. Sounds very exciting. Tell me about your plans for the future to build a magazine, a clothing brand and an event planning business.

This definitely ties into what we were talking about above. It is interesting because my nonprofit The BLK Projek was definitely a manifestation of BLK GRL. BLK GRL was created as a way to meld all three of those things to change the perpetuation of Black and of color women in the media (the very perpetuation that drove me from hip-hop) but to do it as an independent media outlet, because that to me is important. Too often we are always trying to break down a door when we should be concentrating on building a new house and opening our own damn door. So essentially I was trying to build a new house and have a fly ass party where all women of color should come to find a common thread of understanding.

What do your kids think about the work you are doing? How do you suppose they are embracing your environmental protection philosophy?

My kids think my work is fun but they have also expressed that I work a lot. That scares me sometimes because I am continually looking to balance my passion for my work with my love for my children. I never forget they are the reason I do the work but I never want them to think it comes before them. My kids embrace it by being lil activist when they can. They love being able to tell people hy they should plant food and what the “stinky smell” in our community means. They also like to brag about me sometimes and sometimes to be honest like little kids they just don’t care. They just want their mommy. Hahaha. Interestingly enough they went through a phase last year where they would sing protest cheers and chants it was very cute.


Tanya Fields

Tell us about yourself:
Q: Where’s your hometown?

A:I hail from Harlem, NYC lived there until I was 22 years old.

Q: How old are you?

A: I am 28 now I will be 29 in early September

Q: Are you married?

A: No I am engaged to a real knucklehead hahahah I love him, he is supportive and committed to my family

Q:You have children. How many? How old are they? And what are their names?

A: I have 4 children, almost lol. Lola is to arrive October 18 and then there is Taylor who is 6 going on 36, she’s a diva; Tristann who we call Mama because she has such an old soul. She is 5 and starts kindergarten this year and then there is Thomas who dons the community nickname Pork Chop. He is 14 months old and a real man’s man.

Q: What’s your degree of education?

A: I went to three different schools. It took me almost seven years to get out. I guess that’s what happens when you have a gang of children. I eventually graduated from Baruch where I had some awesome, supportive and encouraging professors. My major was political science with a minor in black and Hispanic studies (go figure)
Q: What is your favorite place in the world? Where do you find peace in your soul just being there?

A: I am not sure because there are so many places in the world I have yet to go. I love the beaches of Jamaica but I have only been to Ochos Rios in Jamaica. But the couch of my Grandmama’s house is a close second. I used to love to curl up there when I was a kid and just sleep.


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I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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