Hanna Garth and the Heirloom Gardens Oral History Project at Princeton's Inaugural Community-Engaged Research Institute

April 11, 2024

On Friday, April 5, 2024, Assistant Professor Hanna Garth’s Heirloom Gardens Oral history project was featured in Princeton's Inaugural Community-Engaged Research Institute (CERI). The event was part of a series of events celebrating the 25th anniversary of Princeton’s Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship (ProCES). The Heirloom Gardens Oral History Project is a collaboration of Princeton University, Spelman College, and the Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance to collect oral histories of people who have worked to preserve Black and Indigenous seed and foodways through the Southeastern United States and Appalachia. Garth collaborates with Tessa Desmond, a research specialist in the School of Public and International Affairs and Kimberly Jackson, Professor of biochemistry, and Director of the Food Studies program at Spelman College.

This project is supported by the Princeton Alliance for Collaborative Research and Innovation (PACRI) and ProCES has supported the student interns who work on the project each summer through the Derian Summer Internship Program. Bonnetta Adeeb of Ujamaa, spoke about her vision for this oral history project and the success of Ujamaa’s collaboration with Princeton and Spelman thus far. Justin Zhang, current Princeton senior, who interned on the project through the Derian program last summer spoke about the powerful experiences he had which allowed him to connect to his own ancestry and relationships to growing food.

CERI was organized by ProCES and generously co-sponsored by the following partners:

Derian Student Internship Fund, School of Public & International Affairs (SPIA), Princeton Humanities Council, Princeton Alliance for Collaborative Research & Innovation, Princeton Food Project, Department of Anthropology

The gathering featured the first public presentation of the archive of the Heirloom Gardens Project housed at Spelman College and operated by the Atlanta University Center Woodruff Library. The first batch of free, open access oral history interviews is available here. The CERI event brought several members of Ujamaa to campus, along with Carla J. Thomas McGinnis, Assistant Director of Council Operations and Museum Initiatives National Museum of African American History and Culture and Eric Calhoun, Supervisory Horticulturist with Smithsonian Gardens. Garth and Desmond are working with Thomas McGinnis and Calhoun to envision a multimodal experience featuring the Heirloom Gardens Project stories at the Smithsonian. The event included breakout sessions to brainstorm and plan the best ways to publicize and highlight the archive. 

Cultural Anthropologist and Professor Emerita at the University of Georgia, Virginia Nazarea, spoke of her long career collecting oral histories among diverse groups of seed savers. Mama Ira Wallace, known as the Godmother of Southern Seeds, rounded out the day with a keynote featuring her lifelong work collecting seeds and their stories. Both Nazarea and Wallace praised the Heirloom Gardens Project for centering the importance of seed stories and recognizing the essential role of oral history in ethnobotany, biodiversity, and conservation work. Many attendees expressed their gratitude and appreciation for Princeton’s support of community engaged work.

The Heirloom Gardens Oral History Project