Most exciting day at SDG – staking Tomatoes and weeding Kale and Cabbage! I have mentioned that I am teaching growing this season and my delight coupled with my new growers’ delight could easily make one levitate. And to glance over to Three Sisters bed (Corn, Beans & Squash) coming on strong, while staking Tomatoes, is next level height.
In 2013 Marc and I experienced what our native peoples call Hungry Moon. We were home insecure through 2011 and 2012 and we had just landed at our current apartment September 2012. It had been a harrowing couple of years, but when one is in survival mode, there is no time (or energy for that matter) for fear, sadness, depression – one must keep one’s head down and fight on – hence my yearlong depression in 2013. We had landed, finally, safe and sound in this small, but lovely sunny house apartment. I am not fond of the notion of spending thirty years paying for a house, in fact I was not fond of spending five years paying for a car, which died a month after our last payment I might add. A car, dear friends, cost $7000 to build, the rest of the cost is advertising! So I’m holding out, not in support of an Establishment that doesn’t support me – black, female. Black people have one trillion dollars in economic power, yet we cannot agree to boycott the Establishment. Many of us want that American Dream (read Nightmare) and on an individual basis pursue that dream without thought for our people as a whole. And why wouldn’t we when any attempt to work collectively can be destroyed by a white mob, like Tulsa 1921.
I had acquired land in 2011 and was just getting my footing as a grower by 2013. I had moved upstate to learn how to grow and provide fresh food and medicine for Marc and I. When we met, I had already been across country and wanted to live “out there,” and Marc mentioned that Brooklyn and Manhattan were islands and we might want to consider living on mainland American to facilitate escape should “something happen.” We could drive North and West if necessary. That first “something happen” turned out to be 9/11 where I spent three hours driving home from my job at Riverside Park – driving from one island to another. The second “something happen” was the blackout of 2003 where again we travelled from one island to another. I was on rollerblades, Marc ultimately cabbed it home. We had beepers, not cellphones back then and I couldn’t reach him.
Those who could left New York City directly after 9/11 or even years before when Beacon was a good investment. It took us five years after 9/11 to get out of the boroughs. The parks department had allowed us to develop a strong unit of workers only to dismantle us from the top down and scatter us to the wind. I, who had been dubbed a “loose cannon,” found myself in a police state at Gracie Mansion and knew it was time to take that road upstate. I was Assistant Gardener to Richie Cabo had he was the first person to show me Beacon. (photo Plantain)
We landed in our current apartment September 2012 and I was learning to make Pesto and Sauerkraut, but not enough to carry us through Hungry Moon, which is February when a tribe’s Winter stores run out and it is not yet warm enough to forage. We had experienced an eighteen hour power outage in a snowstorm in our transition house in 2012 and here in 2013 was another one of those moments when we look at each other and know that here is the face of death. In the snowstorm, we had run out of ways to stay warm and we were just starting to feel the cold in our bones when the power came back on. In our new apartment suddenly, the cupboards were bare and we were a month away from the growing season.
When I moved upstate I wanted to know Human 101. I now know it’s Food, Shelter and Water. There are African tribes that have a fifteen hour work week procuring these basic needs. In 2013, I was about to learn Human 101. I wanted a relationship with Mother Earth – harmony. Today I consider 2011 a Rite of Passage into the wilderness because, although we had lost our home and our car, I was land rich. I acquired SDG, Groundwork and Flora Jones Garden in 2011 which buffered the blow of becoming homeless. I counted my blessings as I do now. 2011 was perfectly bittersweet. It was also the year I made the final decision not to have children. Whooweee, what year! And I was living in this tiny town upstate where I could walk to Yoga class.
Manhattan has a job site called Metro Hort, which posts horticulture jobs in the area. I believe I found Windowbox on Metro Hort, my first full time job after my Certificate of Horticulture from Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Windowbox was rooftop gardening on the upper east side, the one part of the city I hadn’t spent much time in after thirteen years in New York City. I, then, while in parks found my dream job on Metro Hort, Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture (www.stonebarnscenter.org). There are moments in one’s life when all one can do to facilitate the future is pray. Engage with Spirit and have faith. Brooklyn Botanic Garden was one of those moments.
I had worked at the front gate, the office and the gift shop by the time I heard about the Horticulture program. I had befriended an African brothah from Ghana, Paul Teye, who was in the program and encouraged me to apply. He was also encouraging a fellow Ghanaian, Charles to apply. So I did. The Director would enter the garden every morning through my gate so I introduced myself to get my face into her memory. At some point I knew I had to “let go and let God” as they say. I promised Spirit that should I get the position, I will never doubt their power again and I haven’t. I’m prone to jumping up and down when things work out for me. And the day I got the word was one of those days. Charles got into the program too.
It took Stone Barns a month to make a decision and I sat in faith once again, knowing that here was the next phase of my life. It was 2006. I had been studying herbs since 2001 and was ready to try my hand at growing. Finally my feet left the ground again. Horticulture is the frivolous, wasteful equivalent to the life giving potentially sustainable closed system of agriculture. The product of empire. Don’t get me wrong, I will find and visit a botanic garden anywhere I travel, but I was also able to plant an entire garden with the plants that were thrown away working in horticulture. And don’t get me started on pesticides to manage these “botanic” gardens. Now I will say, I believe the kitchen garden is the most sustainable food source, but that’s another story. Transitioning from horticulture to agriculture was eye-opening to say the least.
The next step was to move out of Brooklyn. When I started to look for a job on a farm, I felt the pull of the land. As I said parks had imploded and I thought it was now or never to head upstate. I said to Marc, it was time for me to head upstate. He didn’t have to come, but I had to go. I was determined to cast my fate on the wind. We were married seven years at that point and he said “of course I’m coming with you.” Let me shout out my lovely, courageous husband, without whom none of this would be possible. Aaahhh, companionship! I am a relationship girl. I have only spent maybe three years of my adult life without a companion. I submit to relationship at twenty-two.
My chest and shoulders pointed North and Spirit said it was time. Alice Walker taught me to call my higher power “the Spirit” in her dedication in her book The Color Purple. Having been raised Catholic, Pentecostal and Southern Baptist, I had left the church at sixteen and needed a new name for what I knew was a real energy that carried us through this world. The wind I could step upon when I left home at nineteen. If there was a Holy Spirit, I would be just fine.
Westchester proved to be too expensive so our realtor suggested Beacon, Dutchess, then, being the last affordable county in proximity to the city. It was a forty-five minute drive from Stone Barns, but we planned to get a four cylinder car. I saw a picture of our first house and knew it was the one. I started working at Stone Barns March 2006 and we moved in June.
I knew that next Hungry Moon would be better because I had at least created my list of crops. Now to grow them, harvest them and process them into Winter stores. We learned the value of rice and beans and soup that Winter, dried Beans, Lentils and Split Peas available for less than five dollars. They’ve been our Winter Stock ever since. So here we are 2020 and these delightful new growers make my heart sing as we get set to bring in the harvest. We certainly have to plan for four next season at SDG, which is becoming increasingly apparent as the weeks go by, but we’ll get through it. Covid-19, hopefully, has highlighted for us, the power of community. As humans, it’s all we have ever had, have, or will have. Human 101. Empires will rise and fall, but we can always head out to the field and get our hands in the dirt to sustain ourselves. Ache!
A Farm for All is one of only a few farms upstate (Soul Fire, Albany, Rise and Root, Chester, Seed Song, Kingston) that make it their mission to offer access to people of color while our counterparts in the Southern United States are bilked out of there land on a regular basis. It is a straight hustle to farm upstate “while black,” but I am pleased to have been granted access. Without children I spend my life in service to communities and it is a privilege to now pass on my knowledge to others.