The first of Kwanzaa’s seven principles is the Swahili word Umoja, meaning unity. A national holiday celebrating African-American culture, Kwanzaa – Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 – also honors self-determination, responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.
The St. Pete Youth Farm, an urban agriculture project established in 2019 on six vacant Midtown lots, is hosting its annual Kwanzaa celebration Tuesday, Dec. 26 from 5 to 8 p.m., the first of the holiday’s seven days.
Farm director Carla Bristol began the St. Pete Kwanzaa observance 10 years ago at her art space, Gallerie 909. When she moved to the Youth Farm, where area teens cultivate, grow and harvest vegetables for the community as educational outreach, she brought the Kwanzaa celebration with her.
“It was a call from the community to do it,” said Bristol, a native of Guyana who arrived in New York, with her family, at age 11. She’s been a St. Petersburg resident since 1996.
“There must have been a time, before Carla Bristol, when it was done, and maybe it fell off, but it just became the thing that we needed to do. I picked the first night because I liked the idea of unity – unifying. Everybody coming together.
“I definitely like the idea of helping the community learn that it’s not a religious holiday at all. It’s very cultural in nature. And its principals, we can all participate in to grow a better community.”
Since serving the community is at the heart of the mission of the St. Pete Youth Farm, holding the first-night-of-Kwanzaa celebration seemed like a match made in heaven.
“A large part of Kwanzaa is the harvest,” Bristol said. “For us, it’s going to be everything we’re growing right now – collards, kale, mustards, tomatoes, eggplant – that’s what you’ll see on the table.” There will be fresh tilapia at the Dec. 26 feast – the farm raises fish, too – along with drumming and dancing.
The farm’s most recent acquisition is a commercial, wood-burning brick oven, a donation from the organizers of the St. Pete Run Fest (they also donated, earlier, the farm’s first generator).
Bristol and her crew have big ideas for the oven, including bread-baking, pizza-making and, most importantly, serving others. Classes are planned. These will be, she stressed, important lessons for the Youth Farm teens. “We could really help people with their utility bills,” she said.
“Because when you don’t have electricity, but you still have wood to burn, we’ll still have hot food. Can you imagine if people brought their Dutch oven pots, and we cooked their food and then they picked it up after work?
“It’s called community. All over the world, it’s called community.”
Unity, and unifying, she added, “shouldn’t feel new. But I think it’s a re-learning of behavior. We are on a peninsula – it is critical for us to embrace the idea of unifying. Because should we ever end up in a situation like we did with Hurricane Irma, us coming together and knowing where our community assets are is important. For me the farm, the oven, it’s all a community asset that we should we celebrating.
“And so, it couldn’t be a more natural backdrop to host Kwanzaa.”
In 2014, Bristol left a successful career in the corporate world to open the gallery, and then to become “Collaboration Manager” at the Youth Farm. She became a dedicated activist, immersing herself in issues and events that affect the city’s African-American community, immediately upon her arrival in St. Pete. She hosts a semi-regular podcast, Connect with Carla B, which is accessible here.
She knows she’s putting in the hours and doing the good work. “This is home,” she said. “I don’t want to live anywhere else.
“But I feel like the threat – the possibility of being unable to afford to live here – is becoming more real for more people. And I think if we don’t focus on that churn, we’re going to lose a lot of what makes us such a special place.”
The Dec. 26 event is free, as is parking at nearby Enoch Davis parking lot. The St. Pete Youth Farm is at 1664 12th Street S. The website is here.