If there’s no one way to be sustainable, then rap duo EARTHGANG is paving yet another route for artists to engage in reducing their impact on the planet beyond recycled merch lines and carbon offsetting of tours. On Earth Day, the Grammy nominated Olu and WowGr8 partnered with Jean Childs Young Middle School and the Atlanta Public School Board on a community garden project to address food insecurity and expand students’ ideas of what it means to give back to the land. For EARTHGANG, saving the planet is a global issue that starts at the local level.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the percentage of American households with children experiencing food insecurity doubled, from 14% to 28%, with communities of color being the most affected. And, in a 2019 survey, students at Jean Childs Young Middle School reported food insecurity to be one of the biggest barriers to their success. EARTHGANG, who first met on a field trip in high school in Southwest Atlanta, hopes to inspire healthy eating habits by restoring a plot of donated land and establishing a robust community garden that will seek to strengthen the local community. In 2020, the duo also banded with Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and politician Stacey Abrams to drive out voters for both the national and state elections.
“The best way as an artist is to lead by example,” WowGr8 says. “Opening gardens, cleaner shows, and promoting sustainable practices via lifestyle and social media.” After donating $10,000 to the project, EARTHGANG is promoting a GoFundMe with a $200,000 goal that anyone can donate to.
In an interview with Atmos, Olu and WowGr8 talk about what it felt like to finally break ground to create the garden after the pandemic postponed their original efforts, the connection between environmental justice and inner-city schools, and the importance of introducing the principles of land conservation within youth communities.
Walk us through how the community garden project with Jean Childs Young Middle School came about.
For the past few years we had been trying to plan an event for Earth Day that would allow us to show our love and appreciation for this planet while also giving us the opportunity to give back to our community. Unfortunately, we were always on tour. Last year during the pandemic, we regrouped and began communicating with our team, Jean Childs Young [Middle School], and Atlanta Public School Board members to partner and help raise funds to begin a community garden in Southwest Atlanta. The land for the garden was donated by a neighboring family after their house was lost due to fire. It was really perfect timing: We were able to turn tragedy into hope by giving this gift to the children and the community.
Were there any moments of building or cultivating the garden that stand out/that you’ll never forget? What did you learn through the experience?
Breaking the ground was beautiful. It was a great moment to see the children excited for something new and to experience learning in a new way. And the support that the project has been receiving from members who also grew up in the community like Goodie Mob, Killer Mike, and councilman Andre Dickens lets us know that we are doing our part to keep the community growing.
You’ve said we have to start locally when it comes to solving the global issue that is climate change. How can this be done when it comes to food insecurity, specifically? Are there goals to make more community gardens across Georgia or the U.S.?
Global food production dramatically impacts, and is impacted by, climate change. We produce so much that we use vast amounts of energy and many times food goes to waste. Community gardens can teach all of us about conservation, taking only what we need, and giving back to the soil to cultivate a reciprocal relationship with our environment.
How can community gardens be an element or facet within tackling environmental justice?
Giving back the land to people who live in these areas is environmental justice. Many of these areas are occupied by people struggling to survive. Giving back land and ownership allows us to control our own destiny.
How can community gardens be an element or facet at tackling environmental justice?
It is our belief that man was put on Earth to care for the land and coexist with the land. A lot of the injustice done to the environment occurs from a constant overuse of natural resources without changing or replenishing. Community gardens help the current and future generations better understand the needs of the land and how deeply connected they are with the needs of humanity.
You’ve used the phrase “slapping people in the face with music.” How do you think that can apply to climate information, as well? How can we slap people in the face with climate?
Climate change is doing its best to slap us in the face on its own. We see a rise in natural disasters and a drop in resources. The best message we can deliver is that the job of cleaning your home (Earth) is never done. Also, it must be said that there is still hope. Sometimes the lack of action toward saving the environment can come from apathy or hopelessness.