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According to the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), ecological restoration assists the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. The Wildlife Ecological Restoration Program is the brainchild of Marshall High School Agriculture educator Babara Pillow-Sidibeh. She is one of the few Black agriculture educators in the state of Illinois.
Ms. Pillow-Sidibeh’s mother grew up on a farm in Yazoo City, Mississippi. She fondly remembers growing up here in Chicago how passionate her father was about his garden. She and her siblings would often steal green tomatoes from his garden in the summer to make a piping hot plate of delicious fried green tomatoes. Her father maintained his garden until he passed away.
“I learned so much the more I researched the ideologies and philosophies of George Washington Carver and how he saw the symbiotic relationships between plants and animals,” said Pillow-Sidibeh. George Washington Carver, the father of American agriculture, was a Black farmer, scientist, environmentalist, and inventor.
Among his many inventions and discoveries, Carver pioneered crop rotation in the United States, which he taught to southern farmers. At the time, the monoculture of cotton growing was severely depleting southern soil of its nutrition. However, her friend and Black business owner, Dr. Mohamed Sherriff, stated, “Scientists from around the world still flock to Tuskegee University to learn from Dr. Carver’s research.”
Pillow-Sidibeh hopes to bring her passion for agriculture to the students that need it the most. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow 6 percent between 2019 and 2029.
This is faster than the average for all occupations. In addition, the employment of agricultural and food scientists is projected to grow as research into agricultural production methods and techniques continues.
The average salary for agriculture majors is $74,049. Of the agriculture degrees awarded in 2019, 73.3 percent were awarded to white students, 10 percent to Hispanic or Latinos, and only 3.73 percent to Black students.
Black students are woefully underrepresented in the agriculture field, just as Black farmers continue to experience historical racism from the American agriculture industry.
As stated by Pillow-Sidibeh, “Agriculture is in our DNA. Being an American Descendent of Slavery and descended from the original people of the planet has put us in a unique position to be the innovators needed to turn the tide of the environmental devastation of the planet.”
Born into slavery, George Washington Carver laid the foundation for what American agriculture should look like. It is safe to say that if the United States had only followed Carver’s ideologies, maybe there would not be such levels of environmental degradation across the board. The program is funded through After School Matters and began Tuesday, July 6, 2021.
Written by Ebonee Stevenson
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
United States Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook
Images Courtesy of Eboneee Stevenson – Used With Permission