We caught up with general member, Georgia Organics board member, and HABESHA Executive Director Cashawn Myers at Green Acres, Georgia Organics’ 17th Annual Conference and Expo.
What drew you to the work you do? I grew up in a small town, Woodbine, about 20 minutes from [Jekyll Island]. All of my grandparents were farmers, and I worked for my grandfather during the summers. Being at this conference has made my life come full circle for me. Growing up in a small town near Jekyll Island, no one talked about these issues, and now I’m back home as part of an organization that’s making change. It’s been really great to be here.
As a student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), I learned more about my African ancestry and started to make connections between where I come from and where I am today. When I was at Clark Atlanta University, I saw the children who lived in the housing project directly across the street weren’t interacting with the University in any real way. That was upsetting. I also saw a lot of my family members dealing with diet-related disease. I kept trying to figure out what I can do to help reverse these patterns. At FAMU, I learned more about how to effect change with young people and decided to start there. So with motivation and inspiration from my mother and family members, I founded HABESHA, Helping Africa by Establishing Schools at Home & Abroad.
Why do you farm organically? For us at HABESHA, organic is important for a few reasons. For one, organic has taken on a life of its own. In workshops, young people define organic firstly as healthy and natural – it has a connotation of being good for you. Health is an important part of what we do.
Secondly, for us to be able to heal the planet, we have to tune into traditional ways. The use of chemicals is fairly new within the scope of agriculture historically. Why is it that all of the sudden we can’t not use them? When learning more about how things are traditionally done in Africa, I found that our ancestors knew how to balance give and take. Right now there’s more take than give. Balance is important.
Why did you become a member of Georgia Organics? Over the years, I’ve seen GO grow into a powerful voice. I wanted to be able to contribute to that voice as a young person and someone who could bring cultural diversity, so I decided to join the board. I’m also young and have a fairly small organization, and saw an opportunity to learn some best practices to benefit HABESHA. I’ve been involved with several ag-related organizations, and GO is the best run that I’ve seen, particularly the conferences. I truly believe in the work GO does and I feel proud to be a member of the board. It feels great to be able to see that in some small way, I’m contributing to this great work at Georgia Organics.
What does HABESHA do? HABESHA is a pan-African organization that cultivates leadership in youth through cultural education, sustainable agriculture, entrepreneurship, holistic health, and technology. We have three programs:
- Sustainable Seeds exposes elementary and middle school youth to interactive learning of mathematics, science, nutrition, and environmental sustainability through an organic garden.
- Black to Our Roots is a high school leadership and rites of passage program that was designed to reduce the negative impacts of poor education and community apathy that exists in many urban environments. We provide youth with the tools to become active participants in the development of in their communities, and the program culminates in a travel study to Africa.
- HABESHA Works is a green jobs training initiative that teaches basic skills in urban organic agriculture and agribusiness development, promoting sustainable agriculture as a tool for economic development within communities lacking adequate job resources and those experiencing barriers to healthy, fresh, high quality foods. HABESHA Works is now accepting applicants! The application deadline is March 23, 2014.
What’s your vision? There’s no success without successors. The vision for HABESHA is to continue to train young people to be the next movers and shakers and our future leaders.
“No one can ever take advantage of me because I give my advantage away.” I once heard someone say that, and it really impacted me. I want to see a world that is focused on cooperation, balance and unity – not getting ahead. No one should be in need of food in this world. Being able to eat quality, healthy food is a right. There shouldn’t be oppression in any form. If I can contribute to those ideals, I can honor my grandparents, my ancestors, those who are yet to come, and those who sacrificed for me, and if we cooperate together, we can tackle the Monsantos of this world.