Reyes Antuan was born in Santiago de Cuba, Cuba. He moved to Victoria five years ago. Spending his childhood and early adulthood in Cuba, Reyes Antuan describes, “I’ve seen so many crises, and I understand what it means to go hungry and not know what I’m going to eat the next day.” When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Reyes Antuan and his partner, Jess Reyes Barton, decided to grow food.
They started a small garden in their backyard but soon recognized a need to engage with the diverse community around them. Reyes Antuan believes deeply in the necessity of resilient and supportive communities. He says, “If we don’t lift up each other, start collaborating and get together as a community, for me, we are in trouble.”
Around the same time, Reyes Antuan learned about traditional burlap sack gardens, a method of gardening in burlap sacks that originates and is practiced across East Africa. The idea resonated with Reyes Antuan as a way to connect with his identity and engage with the “ever-changing diverse communities” that he was encountering in Victoria.
Reyes Antuan describes how many people in marginalized communities do not have access to food systems work, agriculture, and local food in part because they are not represented in the local food community. Through burlap sack gardens, Reyes Antuan and Barton saw an opportunity for “Representing these voices and holding a space for them to show what they are capable of.”
Reyes Antuan says, “You can see the resurgence of agriculture led by Black people, Black ecological stewardship in the states, and that’s something that we are very interested in pursuing here on the island.”
Reyes Antuan wants to give people hope, showing them that it is possible to regain agency and grow some of their own food. He believes that the climate crisis needs to be tackled with inspiration. He says, “We need to give people hope. Because when people see hope, people see change. When people see change, people get connected.”
Reyes Antuan and Barton launched a fundraiser and within one week had the funds they needed to start the Palenke Greens initiative. Since 2020, the initiative has helped create more than 90 burlap sack gardens and distribute 100 seedlings.
With a dolly, a sack, soil, and […] a shovel, we went out on the city going to apartment buildings everywhere, teaching people how to grow food in a sack.”