Urban Farming: How local artist is using food to bridge racial gaps


Hannah Michelle Bussa

Decker Gabriel-Woods tends to his garden that is planting new seeds for a racially sustainable city. Photo courtesy of Decker Gabriel-Woods.

Decker Gabriel-Woods is a filmmaker and rapper in Omaha, also known as Dex Arbor. This year, he is a Big Muddy Urban Farm’s Aspiring Farmer Resident, a one-year program to learn how to operate a farm business.

During the pandemic, Gabriel-Woods became interested in the idea of a local food supply chain. He was inspired by the gardening Masterclass by Ron Finley, the “Gangsta Gardener” and his family members growing their own food.

“I always thought agriculture was interesting and very important, but it wasn’t until 2020 that I actually saw it as something I could be a part of,” he said.

Gabriel-Woods said the landscape of America waking up to racial injustice last summer also pushed him towards agriculture.

“I quickly began to realize that I had needed to do something more than just protesting in the streets,” he said. “I needed to do something that got to the root of the vast difference in quality of life based on geography and race. Healthy food can empower people to make decisions that will improve their life. Having access to fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables has a huge impact on mental health and resilience to diseases.”

He said the impact of toxic processed foods being what’s most readily available in urban areas with a larger population of people of color is a problem. Urban farming can help make an alternative option accessible, but there also needs to be a shift in the culture.

Gabriel-Woods has heritage from almost every continent. He said his ancestors are Haitian, Italian, Chinese and Peruvian.

“I am also estranged from those histories because I am adopted,” he said. “For me, food is a way to explore and reclaim those heritages.”

At Big Muddy Urban Farm, Gabriel-Woods is learning how to do something for the world. They grow and distribute foods through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), a weekly membership box of produce.

“The most important thing I’m learning is how to grow food,” he said. “I have never really planted anything besides maybe a tomato plant or tended to a house plant that was already grown by the store.”

The program gave Gabriel-Woods an opportunity to live among a community of young people who are passionate about growing food and improving their relationship with Earth. He also has freedom to be an artist without worrying about rent, as the housing is free. He’s focusing on his non-fiction filmmaking during this residency.

“I want to make video production a part of our promotional materials,” he said. “I’m working with a new filmmaker, Magdyln Jones, to develop a web series that celebrates communion through food, bringing people of color together to have conversations over farm fresh meals. The idea is that these videos can help influence the culture to embrace urban farming and healthy food, as well as engaging people of color in an honest way.”

He also wants to build a name for himself as someone who can teach about gardening or cooking. After this residency, he wants to teach others as a local celebrity chef.

“Aside from the curriculum, I’m also learning a lot about community building,” he said. “A lot of the gardening programs in Omaha don’t have the best reputation when it comes to conscientious engagement with the Black community. I would really like to change that, so I’ve been observing how our biases, including my own, shape those relationships and looking for creative ways that food can bridge those gaps.”

Gabriel-Woods said urban farming cuts out fossil fuel usage by reducing transportation needs and puts carbon back into the ground instead of the air.

“Honestly, I believe we are past the need for sustainability and more in need of regenerative practices and radical solutions, which repair the harm our society enacts upon the Earth every day,” he said. “Urban farming can be an important part of this because it makes nature visible in the city, where so many people are able to go about their lives without thinking about the relationship with the planet.”