Hey fellow cultivators. This will be the unofficial first feature. I say that because, well, this is basically me interviewing myself. Not only because I want you to know more about me as a homesteader, but also to give you an idea of how I'd like to feature future cultivators. Interviewing Black gardeners, homesteaders, and farmers is an excellent opportunity to non-Black people to gain insight into their experiences, practices, and challenges. So for now, let's just pretend like I'm not talking to myself. Here goes...
Princess, The Tranquil Homestead
Can you tell me about your background and how you got started in gardening/homesteading/farming?
I grew up in the city. That's not to say that nobody gardens in the city, but there definitely weren't any gardens in my neighborhood. I'm from the Bronx, and I lived in what we call a private house. Not sure if anyone still calls them that. They were basically duplex townhomes. Mine had two apartments upstairs on the left, a garage in the middle, and one apartment on the right which is where the landlord/owner lived. Our apartment had access to the back porch. The door to get out there was in my bedroom.
Even if I thought about gardening back then, it was covered. Barely any sun got back there. I didn't think about gardening until 2013. By this time, I was living in Atlanta. If I remember correctly, there were a lot of recalls that year and I was sick of it. I wanted to have some control over what I was eating. So, I started a garden. Both in ground and containers.
What inspired you to pursue gardening/homesteading/farming, and what do you enjoy most about it?
Understanding that food is medicine is what inspired me to start growing food. I hate to sound so cliche, but let's be honest. There is nothing better than fresh, chemical free, healthy, homegrown food.
How has your cultural or familial heritage influenced your approach to gardening/homesteading/farming?
Nobody in my family grew a single thing. Well, not food. My great aunt had tons of house plants, but that was it. I incorporate my cultural heritage by growing things that my ancestors used in their cooking. I grow seed varieties used in Japanese and African cuisine. My grandmother is from Kyoto, Japan, so I grow Japanese varieties of melons, peppers, herbs and eggplants. And though I know nothing of my African heritage for obvious reasons, I grow things used in Nigerian/American African cuisine, like okra, peas, beans, etc. If I can be honest, I didn't even know I had Nigerian lineage until I took a DNA test. I just knew I was Black and Japanese.
What are some traditional or indigenous agricultural practices that you incorporate into your work?
Hmm, one thing that I have been trying to incorporate is to eat what's in season, and preserve what's in season to eat when it's not in season.
Can you describe your garden/homestead/farm setup, including the size, location, and types of crops or animals you raise?
I am in Memphis. Well, technically MS, but I'm so close to the state line that I can walk to Memphis. My grow zone is 7b and my yard is 0.26 acres. Small, huh? You'd be surprised at how much you can grow in a small space. I grow hot peppers, sweet peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, tons of melon varieties and tons of medicinal plants. I also grow wheat, hibiscus, corn, flowers, fruit trees, berries, and so much more. I am currently raising quails for eggs, and although I'm not growing them for meat, most of my male birds get culled. I only keep one to two males for breeding. In the future, I'd love to have chickens, cows, turkeys, goats and sheep. We have 5 acres of land in Holly Springs, MS. It's about 40 minutes from where we actually live, so that makes in hard to maintain cultivating the land. So for right now, it's just wild life and trees.
What resources (books, websites, courses) do you find most helpful for expanding your knowledge and skills in your field?
YouTube University. I watch YouTube more than I watch actual T.V. Not only to learn, but also to support other Black cultivators. Along with YouTube, I do a lot of research to help me be a better homesteader.
What role do you believe gardening/homesteading/farming can play in addressing food insecurity and food justice issues, particularly in Black communities?
My answer goes back to the second question. Food is medicine. In a lot of Black communities, there often times isn't any access to healthier food options. For those of us with the option to grow food, we can help the community by giving away extra food or selling them at a low cost.
What are some of your most successful gardening/homesteading/farming techniques or projects?
Interplanting or intercropping is one technique I love to use. This can often times be confused with companion planting, but they're different. While most people tend to pull their spring veggies in order to plant their summer veggies, I plant my summer veggies right in with the spring veggies. When I transplant my spring seedlings, I intentionally leave space for future warm weather seedlings. That way, my summer seedlings get a head start while I wait to finish harvesting the rest of the spring veggies.
How do you use your gardening/homesteading/farming skills to preserve and pass on cultural knowledge to younger generations?
I homeschool my children, and they are always in the garden with me watering plants, planting seeds, pulling weeds, and shelling dried beans. They think it's fun. I incorporate the garden in my lesson plans. Like showing them how food grows, how to compost, the lifecycles of insects, and the roles each insect plays.
Have you collaborated with other Black gardeners/homesteaders/farmers or community organizations?
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future of Black representation and leadership in the agricultural sector?
I think I can safely say that I can speak for all of us when I say that I hope more Black cultivators get the exposure we need. Because we are out here. We are hard to find because the media doesn't shed light on us, but we are out here. Learning, growing, and cultivating land no matter the size. In order for us to be seen, we have to keep supporting each other.
What advice would you give to other aspiring Black gardeners/homesteaders/farmers who are just starting their journey?
Just do it, and do as much research as you can. Start small by growing herbs until you feel comfortable enough to expand. Also, follow every Black gardener, homesteader and farmer you can find.