Women's History Month - Women in Agriculture #3 - Melanie Heckt
Both sides of Mel's family has a history of agriculture and living on the land. Her White family is from Iowa and has generational wealth from farming and owning farm land. Which is something she hopes to reconcile in her life, as she feels she has benefited directly from the industrial agriculture system that violently removed Indigenous people and causes continued harm to people and the environment. On her other side, her Black grandma, who grew up in Rondo (a historically Black neighborhood in St, Paul, MN), always dreamed of having land and raising her own animals. In the late 80s her grandmother moved up North to a tiny town called Bruno, MN and slowly turned a hunting cabin with no running water or electricity into a beautiful home. When she was a kid she raised pigs with her next door neighbor and that’s still the best bacon I’ve ever had! Her Grandmother passed away in 2015 and her family wasn’t able to keep their Grandmother's home, but it’s her dream to have in the family again.
Melanie or Mel as the community knows her, found her way to growing food through nutrition and health. With her mom being a personal trainer and she always told her she made being healthy her job! However, as Mel started studying nutrition at the U of M she hated it pretty quickly. It was very science heavy, but also very racist. Classes included being Black or Hispanic as factors for poor health as though it is inherent we are unhealthy instead of factoring in how the social determinants of health like education, income, zip code, etc. are intentional barriers to accessing a healthy life. Luckily Mel had amazing advisors who turned her towards the food system major and that’s where she was exposed to internships at community organizations combining urban agriculture work with policy change and activism. After realizing policy is extremely important, but not the route she wanted to go, she found having her hands in the soil the most fulfilling.
Her first experience was at a summer job in 2015 where she taught the science component to a children’s garden program. Slowly being involved at organizations like Waite House and Appetite for Change she was exposed to others who grow and had her first community garden plot in 2018 with her best friend, Miah. In 2020, she was supposed to do a farm internship in Vermont which was derailed by covid. Instead she decided to start a garden with her family. That was the first time she was in full control of her own garden space. They focused on growing veggies and medicinal herbs like sage, holy basil, and oregano that they could that share with others. That year she also co-started the CommuniTEA initiative with her friends Miah, Selah, and Amber, where they made medicinal tea blends and gave them out for free to Black folks at events. They hosted a few plant walks which was the first time she learned about foraging. And now she is the Youth Sustainability Manager at Green Garden Bakery, a BIPOC youth led business that grows produce and turns it into delicious baked goods that they sell at farmers markets and catering. They provide job opportunities and leadership development for youth in the Heritage Park Neighborhood of North Minneapolis. Check us out at greengardenbakery.org
Mel wants everyone to learn from her experiences that anyone can grow food and medicinal herbs! All you really need are a few containers, potting mix, seeds, and a willingness to try and fail. Her family garden started out of a bunch of gallon kemps ice cream buckets and turned into 6 raised beds! She's learned gardeners and farmers are some of the most giving people and love to share what they have! She also think it’s really important to know and own your family history with the land whether good or bad. This is still something she is continuing to figure out and work on as a mixed race Black woman on Dakota/Ojibwe land. People want to feel connected to each other and the land and everyone has history and ancestry that is. Before any trauma on the land, there was beauty and a life giving connection that we need to tap back into.
We salute Melanie Heckt, a woman in agricultural history during this lovely month of March!