The garden takes shape (round).
Behind Marcus Henderson, the garden takes shape. (The shape is round.) Matt Baume

Surely you recall Marcus Henderson, the hard-working farmer who stuck a basil plant in the ground in Cal Anderson Park and then saw a whole field of grass transformed into crops. While protests and rioting police raged all around, Henderson helped create an area of peace, growth, and possibility this summer in the park with a garden that’s still thriving to this day.

Sustainable Seattle will honor him and his organization at a virtual awards ceremony next month, along with data scientist Kamal Patel, the NGO King County Equity Now, and a surprise honoree they will announce at the ceremony.

So, aside from transforming our surroundings and winning awards, what’s Henderson been doing lately? Plenty.

For one thing, he’s created an entire collective of dozens of urban agriculture organizers called Black Star Farmers. The group grew out of the army of volunteers who joined him at Cal Anderson to get plants in the soil and harvest crops, and now they tend areas throughout the city that were formerly underused.

BSF emphasizes providing Black and Indigenous people with access to public spaces for purposes that range from growing plant medicines to fostering pollinators. You can find their work in the newly-expanded garden at the MLK FAME Community Center and the Central District’s Cherry Street Farm. (All of which are beautiful! Go visit, wear a mask, keep your distance from others, you know the drill.)

When he’s not summoning plant life out of the earth, Henderson also helped to organize a Cannabis Equality Rally and March last month, and hosts workshops for folks who want to develop their agricultural skills. Sign up for updates on the BSF website if you'd like to know more.

Speaking to Crosscut, Henderson says he expects even more gardening around the city in 2021—apparently a lot of groups have reached out to ask for help activating unused or underused land. Other local farming groups are scrambling to keep up with demand from residents all over the city. (Speaking for myself, I converted an unused parking lot behind my apartment building into a container garden this summer.)

While it’s wonderful to see the city become greener, it’s also particularly satisfying to see Henderson’s success in light of the cynical skepticism that initially greeted the CHOP garden online. Right-wing internet idiots with an axe to grind were quick to dismiss the garden, passing around misinformation as it grew and laughing the whole project off as a misguided mess. Back when the garden first formed, there was no shortage of smug predictions that it would quickly die out. Well, here we are six months later and not only is it thriving but it’s spawned satellite gardens around the city. Ha.