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  • Writer's pictureSasha DuBose

Meeting God

On my first day at Harlem Grown, I meet God. I often meet God when I go to Harlem, but this time it isn’t the collection of churches on every corner where I feel a holy presence.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but I do consider myself a person of faith. The church, for me, is not where God resides. However, I find God in honoring my ancestors who do find sanctuary there. My great grandma Thelma is one of those people. She is an educator, activist, and Presbyterian church leader who calls Harlem home despite no longer residing there. 

Thelma loves Harlem with everything in her. It is an honor to carry out that same love, even though it is just for a month. Her church, where she gains power in praise, then uses that power to give back to her community, is only a ten minute walk from where I prefer to meet God.

A metal bowl is filled with perfectly ripe strawberries
God's reflection

I see God in the strawberry patch that lines the rightmost side of our 134th street farm. I instantly gravitate towards it, instinctively bending over and scouting for berries that are the perfect shade of pink. Eventually, I am given a metal bowl and pruning shears. Harvesting strawberries becomes my first task on the farm. 

If I see God in each strawberry that falls into my palm, heaven must’ve been the ripest berries that roly-polys, snails, and ants make their home. I flinch when I accidentally pluck berries that the bugs burrow into. I hold their world in my hands, and with one snip of my shears, it ends. From happy roly-poly couples to intergenerational ant armies, I feel relieved when the brightest berries serve a higher purpose. I thank God. Maybe heaven is the liveliest bug commune. 

A large, bright red strawberry with a large hole dug into by multiple roly polys
The liveliest bug commune

I meet with God again later that afternoon. I see God in the 87 bunches of collard greens that I harvest for our farm stands where we give free produce to the community.  The people of Harlem are the kindest I know in this city. In the eyes of each passerby, I see my grandmothers, my aunties, and my siblings. I find so much joy in answering folks' questions about the farm, from confirming what we’re growing to asking to see the chickens. Every “hey baby” uttered by an older Black woman adds a year onto my life, balancing out the years lost by taking NJ transit daily for a month straight.

A large bucket of collard leaves on the mulch ground
Y'all know how I feel about collards

NJ transit sits between the seventh and eighth levels of hell for most New Jerseans, but I manage to find God here as the month progresses. My commute, a ninety-minute monstrosity consisting of two trains on a good day and four on an awful one, teaches me that I can find solace, and myself, in the most depraved of places. 

Ninety minutes of chaos becomes ninety minutes of steadying myself for my longest days. I trade my pruning shears out for a pencil, and face myself in my pastel pink journal. For the first time, I do not know what is next in my life. I spend decades defining myself by my academics, accolades, and achievements. I have a fancy NYU degree, but no sense of purpose, and a fleeting sense of self. 

Then I meet Anne. Well, I meet Anne through the stories of those who love her — like her husband, Patrick, and her mother, Pam. Anne is no longer with us, but her love lives on through her family, and her legacy lives on through us apprentices. Like me, Anne Saxelby was armed with an NYU Steinhardt degree that she was unsure how to use, so she turned to the land. I wonder how she navigated the challenges of young adulthood. Did she cry after returning home from a long day on the farm, despite doing what she always dreamed of doing? Were the tears solely from pure exhaustion, or was she just as scared, unsure, and confused as I am? Where does Anne see God, a sign that her work is worthwhile, not only to her but the world around her?

Sasha, wearing a black mask, green overalls, and tan Harlem Grown hat is kneeling while holding a rake in the chicken coop.
Me and my girlies. Shout out to Shirley, my coworker, for taking this!

Every time I take a photo of my work on the farm, I jokingly say to myself, “for Anne Saxelby.” My silly quip becomes a place of deeper reflection and further connection with Anne. I ask if she sees God in the strawberries I harvest, and if she does, what’s the best cheese to pair them with? I prove to her that the roly-polys select the best berries for their homes, which is why the ripest ones remain on the vine. I gab on and on about the hens; my favorite characters of the farm. The people of Harlem have a certain spunk to them, but it is no match for my girls. I marvel at how the soil soaks up raindrops from a spontaneous afternoon storm, knowing that Anne finds beauty in the wonders of nature. I share with her my sweat, tears, and all the places I see God.

Sasha, wearing a tan Harlem Grown t-shirt and bucket hat with green overalls, carries a hydroponic unit over their shoulder while smiling.
Farmer Sash in action!

I see God in myself, a marketing intern who gets their hands dirty a few times a week. I see the princess of Penn Station, sprinting from the 2 train to NJ Transit in 90 seconds flat. I see a Black mom-appropriate office siren, a freshly graduated and confused young adult, and so much more. I see God in farmer Sash, who’s used a porter potty more times this month than their entire life. 

On the farm, I can temporarily abandon the challenges of young adulthood. However, I’m not an expert urban farmer, nor did I try to become one in a month. I can’t tell you the name of every plant I touch and every technique I learn. But I can tell you that it is those quiet moments, where it’s just me, God, and the land where I gather the most knowledge. I may not be a Harlem Grown kid, but everytime I step on one of our farm sites, I feel planted. My feet are rooted on the soil, just like the plants and trees that surround me. In my overalls, bucket hat, and dirty sneakers, I feel the most Godly. As I take my next steps and leave the strawberry patch on 134th street, I hope to keep meeting God all around me, and most importantly within myself.

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