Farm Star Living
"I tell people at the market that you can pay us or you can pay a doctor. At the end of the day, it's cheaper to pay us. It's worth it."

AGE: 34

HOME TOWN: Atlanta, GA in the historic West End neighborhood

FARM NAME & LOCATION: Patchwork City Farms in Atlanta, GA

FARM TYPE / CROPS: Certified naturally grown greens, root vegetables, fruits

FAVORITES:

  • Music: I love Nina Simone. I love blues & jazz music.
  • Food: That's a hard one! I just love food in general. I am a vegetarian, I love healthy food. I am Caribbean, but I can’t say I have a favorite. I love Caribbean food, African food, food with a lot of flavor and spices.
  • Drinks: I drink herbal tea just about every morning. That’s my heritage. I love Sorrel, a Caribbean drink (not to be confused with the herb!). It's a hibiscus drink, brewed with ginger and sweetened with cane sugar. I am an avid tea drinker.
  • Blue Jeans: I do wear them in the field, but I don’t have a favorite brand actually. I like them fitted, and really Levi works the best. Good all around (price, can get them anywhere, fit just any shape). Just a good cut. As long as they’ve got some stretch, I can work in whatever.
  • Thing to do AFTER work: I love entertaining with friends, over cooking or going to eat a good meal. Still around food! Love to chill, hang out with friends, and I love live music and dancing! I’ll dance anywhere.
  • Movie Stars: I don't have a TV. When I did, I was watching a lot of the worst reality TV that I didn't need to be. I work full time and then I do the farm and I've got kids, so I never have time to watch TV. I barely know what's in the movie theaters.
  • Mantra: If you want something done, you just gotta do it yourself. That's kind of good, but sometimes bad because that means I don't always ask for help.


How did you get into farming?

I met my business partner Cecilia in the West End neighborhood doing community work for a local park and trying to do a community garden in the park. We were just trying to grow for our families. We found out about the property at the school and some people were already growing there. We were going to join them but they stopped.We decided to continue, grow collectively, for our families and own consumption. There's not a lot of access in this community to fresh food, so then we thought “Why don’t we just grow?” and make it available to people.

On a whim we just started a farm. No planning, no interning. Cecelia is part of the food, not lawns movement and transformed her front yard into huge garden. She had that experience and I had been reading a lot of books about how to grow the most amount of food on the least amount of land, small plot growing techniques for more production out of small spaces within the urban environment. I’ve always been educating myself, too.

We just went for it and here we are three years later. The farm is actually located on the site of Brown Middle School and we’re leasing an acre from the Atlanta public schools. As part of the farm, we’ve put aside a quarter of an acre for a student garden and a community garden. We’ve got community gardeners that grow their own stuff in raised beds we’ve installed for them. We're currently not working with students now since their off for the summer but we'll restart program when the school year starts up again. It's a gardening group. The kids come out and grow stuff and then learn to cook what they grew. We took them to local markets to see how farmers set up and sell, too.

What do you think a big MISCONCEPTION is about farming?

You know people have a sense of farmers as being rural, male, white, not too educated. I think that’s probably some of the misconceptions.

We’re definitely not that! We’re black, African American females with college degrees in a city. We don’t know a whole lot of older farmers, and a lot of the people we're meeting and a lot of the people we know that are going into farming are like us. Men, women, young, with college degrees, some used to be career people now turning to become farmers.

There's definitely a shift in terms of who farmers are. You really have to prove yourself as a woman saying you’re a farmer. People are like “yeah right” and then they come to the farm and they’re like "Wow, OK, so you really are farming!" Once they see it and get to know you, then they take you seriously. But at first they just think it’s men’s work.

What's your relationship status?

I'm single.

Do you have children?

Three boys.

Do they help out on the farm?

Not a whole lot. I bring them out when I have a specific goal, like when we're planting and it's easy to show them and easy for them to do it. They're not with me everyday when I'm weeding and hoeing and tilling. It wears out real fast. They want to go play with their friends. They feel like they have options of other things to do, living in a city and I like that.

Did your parents or grandparents farm?

My great-grandparents farmed. Great-grandmother is still alive in Jamaica. She's 103 this year! They farmed. My mom grew up with living in Jamaica and always had access to fresh fruits and vegetables. They only went to market for basic things, but pretty much grew everything they needed. Great-grandmother also took stuff to market, made coconut oil and Great-grandfather rented out his fields for people to grow sugar cane and he kept bulls and bred cows. I'm sort of picking up that torch.

What is your attitude about money?

It’s a necessity but I just need enough to cover my needs and to enjoy a little bit of life. I don’t need a whole lot of money, I really don’t. It’s not like an obsession, I'm not trying to amass a whole lot of it.

Where is the farthest you have traveled to? Where would you like to go?

The farthest I have traveled would probably be Jordan, in the Middle East. I went in high school. Anywhere on the continent of Africa I would love to go, I've wanted to go to Morocco for the longest time.

What was the HARDEST part getting started?

The growing itself is not the hardest, but keeping up — dealing with weeds, especially Bermuda grass. It’s so demoralizing sometimes. Just like all of the capital investment you need just to get things going, gotta buy so much.

In the grand scheme in terms of starting business, it’s not the most but working with what we have. Gotta buy shed, tools, protect the farm, put up fencing. All the things that come up that you don’t think about that you have to invest in. That and weeds. I work full time as an engineer, CeCe is a mom; we’re not committing our full energy to it.

For me, it's after work, on the weekends. For her it's some in the morning and in evenings. Not able to be out there every day being on top of it, the maintenance of it. So that’s been a challenge we’re trying to figure out. We need to grow and would love to do it full time and support our families in that way but it's not that way right now. We know we need the time, but it also takes time to replace the salary I'd be giving up.

What SURPRISED you about farming?

What’s been a welcome surprise is that — I think it’s more because of the times we’re in, being in the city & being around people — people are so willing to help. Go out there and you work and you're just doing what you’re doing and it just attracts them. People are so drawn to what you’re doing.

The farm has a really great way of bringing together and it's just kind of creating a space of chill, a zen space. We’re just farming, growing food, trying to stay alive and people come to help. We have no formal watering — just wait for the forecast — and it's still surprising how much production you can get out of the land, and all the creatures that appear when you start growing something.

All kinds of birds, snakes out there, all the different bugs. Wildlife really comes back. It’s just like wow! We have hummingbirds on the farm. I think it was the okra, in the same family as hibiscus, & it attracts the hummingbirds. We're bringing nature back beyond the plants.

TELL US ABOUT A DAY ON THE FARM: When does your day start and end?

I wake up at 5:30 a.m. and get to work at 7, then I’m at the farm at 4:30-5:00 p.m. and back home between 9:30-10. So, my average day is 5:30-9:30. Saturdays we’ve gotten better, we’ve gotten help with harvest and prepping for market, having everything packaged.

What makes you HAPPY in a day on the farm?

It’s quiet. I could be pulling weeds, planting, just being on the farm in any way, shape or fashion is therapeutic and just happy. I could be with a pickaxe going at the ground.

I really wish I could do it full time, cause it’s so rewarding because you plant and seeds are tiny and then when you harvest you’re like wow. It’s just really amazing. Root vegetables amaze me the most. You just grow and you don’t know what’s going on in the ground. When you pull and you see carrots you’re like whoa. Pulling out little gems every time.

What makes you FRUSTRATED?

Finding that someone has let their dog in the farm and not picked up after them. You don’t realize some of these things — we ended up having to put a whole fence around the farm. We prepare a bed and freshly plant in and put a lot of work in prepping and then something has ran all through it. There'll be footprints of a person running after the dog. So we ended up having to spend that kind of money to put a fence around. Dogs jump over the fence. It's gotten less since people are more used to us, but it still happens every now and then.

Also, weeds. Just pull them all and then they're back. We’re trying to figure out ways of handling that, cause it takes a lot of time and there's opportunity for something else to grow if we don’t replant right away after harvesting. Having to figure out our transitions between crops and seasons — that's one of our biggest challenges.

What's the BEST part of a day?

In the whole experience, I would definitely say going to the markets is like the reward at the end of a good work week. At the end of a day, when you’ve freshly tilled and formed all your beds, completed all tasks, that’s really nice. At the end of the week, we go to markets on Sunday and meet with people. They’re so excited and they tell you what they make with what you grow and how it’s feeding their families.

That’s really nice and it helps to reinforce all the hot weather, the backbreaking labor, the exhaustion is worth it and you get that on a weekly basis. It’s continuous. I can’t imagine farming and not being directly connected to my customer in that way. I’m part of something and people look forward to seeing you and we have amazing, dedicated customers.

What's the WORST part of a day?

It can get pretty hot, and during the summertime it can definitely get where you’re like ugh. It can get exhausting, where you’re really tired. I think all of that is part of the experience, so I don’t see it as a bad part of the day. I like heat more than cold, so I’m alright with that. Weeds, man, weeds will drive you crazy! It might be more of a challenge when you take over an urban space that before all they were doing was growing grass and a mixture of a whole bunch of seeds to be green all year round. Bermuda grass, nut grass, all kinds of grass, all kinds for temperature profiles so different grasses in each season. We’re gonna struggle with that for a while.

Any lessons learned on the farm?

Everything is a process. Everything takes a lot longer than you think it will. You’ll come to a space and it’s a field of green grass and it’s amazing soil under there. We started tilling and discovered there was a whole bunch of gravel underneath. Grass just needs an inch of soil and it’s growing all over gravel area and you don’t know.

Make sure, especially when you’re dealing with small spaces and want to maximize potential of that whole space, make sure when go in urban space that you feel out whole space and see what kind of soil or what’s buried beneath your soil. Most areas, we’ve ended up having to raise beds and buy dirt which is expensive.

Get to know the community around you. When you’re composting, bringing in animal byproducts (we use chicken manure, horse manure, goat poo) they might generate temporary odors and if people don’t know you’re farming it might become a problem. Let people know what’s going on, invite them, be open and just know people are going to have a lot of opinions because you’re urban area. Most people are for it, but there's always a few who aren't. There's always gonna be complainers, somebody is always going to have an opinion. Happens a lot more than if you were on your own land in a more rural setting. But people are excited, supportive. People want a piece of being a part of it and doing something.

Is there anything concerning you right now about the future of farming?

Yea, I think what we’re trying to figure out is how to get back to the farmer who is able to farm and sustain a life for their family. But then also do it in a way that is sustainable, and not like petroleum-based. We don’t have tractors. We have a lawnmower & a push-it-yourself kind of tiller. We're trying to operate without debt. We’re just trying to figure out how to become that model so that we can show other people.

I think if we don’t figure that out in a way that doesn’t involve need for greater acres, limited crops, we’re in trouble. There’s people out there, couple of models out there how people have done it, so we're trying out a couple. There are definitely people who are in it, in the field, who are doing the training and here in Georgia specifically what I don’t see so much is connecting the people who are learning how to farm with the land and helping them with upfront capital costs. That upfront hurdle, if they can get past that and they know how to grow and get into the groove of growing, then they can do it.

We need to make that leap, have programs and things organized that gets people who are interested, young people who are training in farming and getting experience and then connecting them with urban and surburban places and setting them up in a way that they can hit the ground running and be successful without struggling for 4-5 years. Not too many people this day and age can just figure it out. I think it’s a challenge we can meet.

Anything to say to those who aren’t farmers?

Support your local farmers. You know the way your food is grown is important. It affects your community, health, and ability to have a full life. So many diet-based diseases can be fixed with things you can eat and farmers are the people that grow the food. Realize that they need to be able to get a fair price for the products that they grow and that they’re trying to feed their families just as the next person. I

t’s a cost and you want to buy the best food so you spend least on your health insurance bill. We’ll say to people at market you can pay us or you can pay a doctor. At the end of the day it’s cheaper to pay us. It’s worth it. Not even just in the long run, it’s worth it now and in the long run. We don’t really have to hammer that message enough. Go to local farmers markets! The more you do the more that grows, so support your local economy. That helps globally, too, because when you support locally the pressure to import is less and those international communities can grow for themselves.

Where do you think you'll be in 5 or 10 years?

I hope to be farming in some capacity, full time. Our name is Patchwork City Farms, and right now we're just farming one location. In 5-10 years, the plan is to expand and have different patches within our community. I hope to have other people that are farming with us as we kind of expand that patchwork of farms within our city. Also maybe travel and do developing work with farming too. That’s probably more the 10 year goal. Within 5 years, I’d like to be full time doing this and have expanded a little bit more and brought more people under our umbrella and help to develop some other farmers.




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