The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
Today I’m joined by internationally recognized urban farmer and food activist, Jamila Norman. Jamila or “Farmer J” is the founder of Patchwork City Farms, a 1.2 acre farm planted in downtown Atlanta. In our conversation Jamila spoke about the kind of foods to grow in your home with limited space, some of the key tools you’ll need to get started with gardening, what to pay attention to during the crop development process, and the rich and empowering history of Black folks stewarding the land.
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Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole Howard
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Session 290: Growing Foods At Home
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 290 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our episode after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: Let's see. Leafy greens, hot peppers, fresh fruit and aromatic herbs. No, I'm not making a grocery list. I'm making a list of all the incredible foods you can grow in the comfort of your own home. Some of you might be thinking to yourself, well Dr. Joy, I don't have a green thumb to grow my own food. To which I respond, you're not born with a green thumb; you earn it. Today I'm joined by internationally recognized urban farmer and food activist, Jamila Norman. Jamila or Farmer J is the founder of Patchwork City Farms, a 1.2-acre farm planted in downtown Atlanta.
In our conversation, Jamila spoke about what kinds of foods to grow in your home with limited space, some of the key tools you need to get started with gardening, what to pay attention to during the crop development process, and the rich empowering history of black folk stewarding the land. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Jamila.
Jamila: Thank you so much for having me. I'm really excited for the conversation.
Dr. Joy: I would love if you could get us started by talking about who in your family got you into farming. Talk to us about your ancestral ties to farming.
Jamila: My ancestral ties to farming, it's really through my parents. My family from the Caribbeans, my mom is from Jamaica, my dad is from Trinidad. They are the ones that grew up with a farming background. Their grandparents were the last farmers on both sides. And my mother really talked a lot about her childhood growing up in Jamaica, she was raised by her grandmother—so my great grandmother and great grandfather—she was raised by them, and they lived off the land. They lived in a small village up in the mountains in Jamaica and then my parents met in New York. So even though I grew up in New York, I also got an opportunity to live in Trinidad for a couple of years on and off over a two-year period, to visit my dad's home country. Just being surrounded by fresh fruits and vegetables, that memory definitely stayed with me and it just was something that I knew growing up, even being born and raised in New York, I just knew I wanted to have for myself at some point.
Dr. Joy: It feels like you are still very connected to those stories of your parents and your great grandparents. Can you talk a little bit about why it might be important to get kids involved with things like farming?
Jamila: It's really great to be involved with farming in a sense of just really having a connection to your food, really understanding where it comes from, what it looks like and the accessibility of it for people to be able to grow something. Farming is definitely not an industry for everyone as a career choice, but gardening is definitely something anybody could do. And gardening is sort of what you do at your home, what you're able to do in your community, if you're part of the community garden, things like that. So it brings a lot of joy, it kind of slows you down, it kind of gets you connected to the cycles of nature. It just really gives you a different perspective in life on just how the natural world is operating around us, for us, how we can be part of it really actively. Whether it's food and medicine, beauty, clothing, shelter, all those things come from the land. It's really rewarding when you get to practice that through gardening and through farming.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned being born and growing up in New York. And I think a lot of our community also live in cities like New York and places where they have limited space. So people are talking about trying to start gardens from their balcony or from their window and those kinds of things. What kinds of foods would you recommend for people who have limited space?
Jamila: One of the easiest things are definitely herbs. Herbs are really easy, they add a lot of flavor. Leafy greens are really easy and rewarding. Some things that don't necessarily take a lot of skill, but it might take a little bit of time are things like onions, garlic like that. You kind of just stick it in the ground and leave it for six months, and you come back and harvest it. They're not really fussy plants, but they just take time. Especially people with balconies or growing in containers, I always tell people to start off with herbs. Leafy greens, and that can be from lettuces, to arugula, to kale, to collards, to mustard greens, so just kind of find out whatever that leafy green that is probably really culturally relevant to you. And then some herbs are perennial. You plant them one time, and they just keep producing year after year. Some things you have to plant every year. And then also depending on where you are. If you are in a climate that gets cold, or if you're in a climate that's warm, it'll help determine some of the things you can grow and the varieties as well.
Dr. Joy: We talk about, often here, when we're starting new things, I think it's important to get a boost of confidence and start pretty easy so that you feel like, okay, this is something that I can keep up with. So the things that you've mentioned, like the herbs, garlic, onions, the leafy greens, are those things that you feel like are good for beginner-beginner people to give them a boost of confidence?
Jamila: Yeah, absolutely, I definitely would say those are the things to start. And I would also say, to really add to that, make sure you start off with transplants as opposed to seeds. Especially with herbs, because a lot of herbs, the seeds are really small and they take a really long time to germinate. For instance, parsley will take up to three weeks before that seed coat will open up and break forth. So if you can go to your local nursery supply store and you buy your little herb plants and get going with that, you can take them out of that smaller pot, put them in a bigger pot so that they grow bigger. I would always recommend to people, start off with transplants first, so figure out how you can kind of keep your plants going, figure out how much water, how much light and everything you need. And then seed starting is sort of like another level. I think a lot of people think, let's get some seeds, throw them in the ground and they’ll grow, and then they’re discouraged. Seeds get a little finicky so definitely start off with plants.
Dr. Joy: Jamila, I just want to stop you because this may be some beginner. You're saying go to like a local nursery or something and find something that is already bloomed or something like you go and find a natural plant that has already like propagated, or whatever the word is?
Jamila: Absolutely, yes. So they're called transplants. You're going to go find the baby plants at your Home Depot, your Ace Hardware, your Lowe's, your Pike Nurseries, you know, whatever that garden center is. Usually they'll have a section with all the edible things and so you'll find a little small rosemary or you'll find a small oregano or something like that, and you take that and those are just in a small like four-inch pot. You take that and you're going to grow it out. I mean, rosemary can grow really big, oregano can grow bigger. So then you can take that small transplant and you transplant it into your bigger pot or your container garden or into your raised bed or into the ground, and then it grows to a full bush, full plant.
If you want to start with seeds and you want that experience, lettuces are really easy from seeds. When you think about leafy greens, the leafy greens are much easier from seeds. So your lettuces, your kale, your collards, those sprout pretty quickly. Herbs, I would say start with transplants and then the leafy greens you start off with seeds and you can kind of have both. The herbs can be a little finicky from seeds so I always tell people, go get those transplants, you're more than halfway there.
Dr. Joy: How much sun does someone need to be able to start an indoor plant? Like what kinds of things should we be measuring for adequate sunlight?
Jamila: Okay, this is the biggest thing because in working with people over the years, people totally underestimate how much sun things need. You need a minimum of six, upwards to eight hours. So six to eight hours of sunlight that you need to really grow your herbs, your vegetables. These plants, they need sun, they do not grow in the shade, so do not find the shadiest corner. If you have a challenge getting sun, then you're probably going to have to look at getting some grow lights if you're really committed to growing some things. But yeah, if you have a balcony, if you have a sunny window, you just kind of want to pay attention to how much sun comes in. That doesn't have to be like direct, piercing sunlight, but light coming through your window for at least six to eight hours is what you want. And you'll have success. So do not underestimate, that's the number one thing. You need some good sun to grow food.
Dr. Joy: Are there any plants that grow better in shade, or no?
Jamila: Not really. There are probably some lettuces you could probably get away with that will grow in some shady environments. You won't get like a good head. You'll get some leaf and it won't be like the most robust it can be. The plant is not going to be the best it can be, so not really.
There are plants that wouldn't mind. They'll get the few sunlight. And Georgia during the summer it gets really, really hot. So if I wanted to like grow lettuces in the summertime in Georgia, I might plant it near my cucumbers or near my tomatoes, a plant that kind of gets a little big so it provides a little bit of shade during the hottest part of the day so it doesn't really burn up too much. Because too much sun can be a thing too, and it's really more so too much heat. And so that's a situation where you would be looking for a little bit of shade. But really in the summertime, we have like 10 to 12 hours of daylight. You have a really long window of sunlight so you're just providing a bit of a break for that plant. So yeah, six to eight hours. And like I said, if you don't have that, you might have to supplement with some lights. And people do that. If they grow indoor plants and you don't have enough light, you get a grow light. Just google, find one and just have it.
Dr. Joy: Are there any unconventional places in our homes that we might not be thinking about that we could actually use to grow plants?
Jamila: Unconventional places? It really depends on where you have light. You probably could grow… A bathroom might be an unconventional place and I don't know if people will be open to it, but a lot of people tend to have a window or something like that in the bathroom and it stays kind of moist and things like that, so it might be a good environment. I like a kitchen windowsill. Your bedroom, you can bring plants into any room. It's going to provide something green and fresh. If you bring in herbs, they also can be something that really smells good. If you like the smell of something, if you want to grow like a lavender or lemongrass or something like that, you bring that into the bedroom. That can be also something that you're engaging and interacting with. And you just sort of get that aromatherapy as well if you're not necessarily using it all the time for cooking. And then, you know, edible flowers. It provides both beauty and it's something you can eat as well. Those are some really cool things that you can grow and it’s kind of dual purpose.
Dr. Joy: Talk to us about what other things we need to get started with farming or having a small garden. You've already talked about like pots so that we can re-pot the small transplants that we get from the store. What other kinds of things do we need to get started?
Jamila: Most important thing, six to eight hours of sunlight. Sunlight is the best but if you need to supplement your sunlight with a grow light, definitely need to do that. Good soil. Do not skimp out especially if you are going to be in pots. Even if you're going to be in a raised bed, try to buy the best soil that you can afford and really look for a soil that is formulated for growing food, especially if you're buying it in bags. Once you start going into building raised beds or you're working with soil in the ground, and you want to amend that soil, then you'll most likely be calling up landscaping companies and you're getting soil dropped off. But if you're doing containers, if you're doing pots, buy good soil. Not soil conditioner, that's not a soil. Don't buy the cheapest stuff. Buy the best stuff you can afford because the soil is everything. The plants are growing, that's the medium that's going to give them the nutrients and everything they need.
And of course, water. And, you know, it needs your attention and your love. It needs you to pay attention to it, make sure it's watered. And with the container, you can get real creative with containers. I mean, people grow in grow bags, people grow in old potato sacks, you can grow in gallon-sized bottles that you chop the top. I mean, you can get really creative. The container really is just to hold the soil and you want to make sure whatever container you use has drainage holes on the bottom. On the bottom, if you're repurposing something, make sure you figure out a way so that if you over-water it, it doesn't soak the roots. A lot of roots don't like to sit in water. But yes, sun, soil, good soil, you get your plant, you get your good seeds.
With seeds, you have to be careful in the sense of making sure that you don't use super old seeds. Because the older seeds are, the less likely they are to germinate, especially if they haven't been stored well. Try to get fresh seeds. Definitely, I would say the necessary elements are making sure you have good amount of sunlight (and if not sunlight, supplementing with the grow light), having really the best soil that you can buy, and obviously water. Rainwater is best. If you can collect rainwater, oh my god, plants love, love, love, love rainwater. And next thing is you can use tap water, absolutely. And then you. Just paying attention to it, loving on the plant, talk to them, check on them, make sure they have everything they need.
Dr. Joy: Is there a gardening tool or something that we might need, that we don't necessarily need to splurge on, but we should be mindful of having?
Jamila: Gardening tool? Yeah. If you're doing a container garden, for the most part, you would need a simple hand spade or like a little small hand shovel so that you can transplant your plants and maybe like a little small garden fork. Usually, you'll find a kit of three or four different gardening tools, starter garden tools in a packet. But it'd be a hand shovel, a little small hand fork and maybe some kind of weaning tool. If you are growing outdoors and you're in sort of raised beds, those would change from being a hand tool to actually a big garden tool. It would be like definitely a shovel, a pitchfork, which would replace the hand fork. Those are the two main ones and then some type of weeding tool. Usually that's a good old standard garden hoe, but there are a bunch of different types of hoes. You can get more and more complicated depending on how in depth you get with your farm garden project. But those are the two main - your shovel, your pitchfork or your hand fork, and then some kind of weeding.
Dr. Joy: Got it. More from my conversation with Jamila after the break.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned the term germination and so I wonder if you could talk us through the plant development process. Like what is germination? What are the stages, what are we paying attention to?
Jamila: Germination refers to the seed. If you're starting from a seed, Seed 101, all the information you need in terms of how to plant the seed, what to do with it, what to expect, how long it takes, is on the seed packet. Make sure whenever you buy your seed packet, just to look on the back, and it'll give you everything you need. When you buy a seed and you put it in the soil, depending on the seed, you'll bury it a certain depth or whatever, you'll kind of cover it with soil. Some seeds don't need much soil to cover them because they're really small. And then you’ll water it and you're waiting for that seed to germinate. And so that seed coating will open up, that plant will send out its sprout, it'll break the surface and, boom, your seed has germinated. So, success number one, your seed has germinated.
Once the seed has germinated, then it'll start to form its true leaves. The first set of leaves are just the germination leaves, I forget exactly what they call them. Those are not the true leaves. And then the second set will be, oh, these are the leaves of the actual plant, this is what the rest of the leaves of that plant will look like. And then it'll just grow. And so depending on the crop, it can take somewhere between a few days up to three weeks for that seed to germinate and you'll just need to know based on the type of seed and the crop that you have purchased. After it germinates, now it's going to grow. If it's in a small container, depending on the crop… Most people will start seeds in something smaller, and then once it's germinated, they will pick the strongest plant and they will take that plant and then they will put it in its final location, whether it's in your pot or in the raised bed or in the ground. And from there, it'll grow.
If it's a leafy green, probably you're going to let it grow for about a month and a half before you start harvesting. If it's like cucumbers and tomatoes, it might be two to three months before it then flowers and then fruits. So it just really depends on the crop, but from seed it will germinate and then after it germinates, it will start growing and you'll have a baby plant. Then after that, it'll grow and mature into the final plant that you want. And that plant will either produce leafy greens or it might produce a root crop- those are your carrots, your beets and things like that. It might produce fruits. Technically, tomatoes, and cucumbers, and all those things are fruits because anything that comes out of a flower is a fruit. And then to the final lifecycle to when it's done, and then you pull it out and compost it.
Dr. Joy: Are all of the directions in terms of like watering and all of that, on the back of the seed packet?
Jamila: Yeah, it really is. Everything is really on the back of the seed packet. Everything you need to know, how many seeds to plant, how far apart. If you’re planting multiples of that crop, they might be like, if you want to plant five tomato plants, you want to space them two feet apart. If you're planting like lettuces that you're cutting for a salad, you're going to plant those really close together, because when you cut it, it grows then cut and grows. So all of that information, how often to water, how much sunlight it needs, best place in the garden to put it. And the full lifecycle, so they'll tell you how long it will take to germinate and how long before you’ll start harvesting from it. And the soil requirements and the nutrient requirements. Seed packets have all the information. You just flip it over to the backside, you read it, and some people even have a little QR code for more information on websites or something like that.
Dr. Joy: Got it, okay.
Jamila: And I usually see packets that you get at the store. Obviously, if somebody just gifts you some seeds, got to go get you a book.
Dr. Joy: You're saying like from these same places that you talked about buying the transplants, like the nurseries and stuff like that? Because I know I've seen these little starter kits at like a Target and I don't feel like I've seen all that information on the back of the seed packets at Target.
Jamila: Yeah. And the starter kit, I haven't done one of those, and they may have the instructions inside the kit. But I know definitely like standard seed packets, there's all kinds. And, you know, there are organic brands, there are conventional ones that you'll find at your local box store - flip it over, all that information is on there. You might need to kind of look up the terms. They'll say something like in row spacing - what rows, what are we talking about? Especially when you're growing in a pot, there's a little bit of translation you have to do because most of it is written for people that are growing a standard garden in the ground - you know, you got your rows of beans and your rows of potatoes and your rows of tomato, so that's sort of what it is. But if it says, for instance, it’s in a pot, plant it 12 inches apart. Well, if you have a pot that's only like 12-inch diameter, that's just one plant and you would want to repeat that. So think about the width of your pot as that width on the seed packet so you'll know how many plants you can put in that pot. The bigger the pot, you can put more stuff. And you can cluster things together, too.
Dr. Joy: Let's talk a little bit about urban farming. Can you talk about what that is and what impact that has on like a city’s sustainability and climate?
Jamila: Urban farming is essentially farming in the urban environment. That can happen, obviously anywhere, you're literally farming in the city. And the effects for me, my background is environmental engineering and I came from a background of studying wastewater, air, pollution, how to solve some of those issues and some of those problems. And there's a slew of things that we're dealing with in cities. That is air pollution, the more hardscapes you create in a city, the more runoff you have, because now the water is not soaking into the soil. Loss of diversity of plants and animals. So in doing a farm in the city, you're taking a space (for some people, it starts off at just a parking lot or a site that nobody's doing anything with) and you're transforming that space into a lush green environment that is helping to clean up air. Because plants do it, they're taking in carbon dioxide and putting out oxygen. You're taking an environment that now you’re growing all this food and that food is using up the rain and so it's using up a lot of that water that falls on it, as opposed to maybe before it was just running off or whatever. It's just providing beauty.
You plant a garden, and you will be surprised what shows up from the animal kingdom. I mean, all kinds of things. You plant flowers, you bring back all kinds of pollinators, and birds now have a resting place, and you see caterpillars and butterflies. And just all kinds of stuff. So it really brings back all the diversity. And then just people in general. People love a garden space. People come by all the time and they’re just like, oh my god, it's so beautiful. I love when older people stop by and they're like remembering them growing up, having their garden maybe out in the country, and they're just like, wow, you're doing this right here in the city. And they're just so proud and so excited to see the young folk (as they say) taking on this profession. And so it just starts this sort of magical kind of thing that it brings a whole nother type of life to a city besides like nightlife. You have garden life, you got the farm life in the city, too. So I love it. I live five minutes away from my farm, my commute is easy. I get to just be outside and get fresh air, I get to be active and get to bring people along for the journey with me. So I love it.
Dr. Joy: Is there anything, you would have to be careful about growing in an urban environment? Are there any things that you would not want to introduce into the middle of a city?
Jamila: The only thing I would say is like don't grow some weed on it. But really, that's the only thing I've ever cautioned anybody. I'm like, there's a lot of eyes, people are watching, you do not want to attract that kind of energy for any reason at all. People will come thinking something else. I had some friends that were trying to grow hemp and I was like, it looks the same and it smells the same, and people might think it’s the same thing. And so I would caution against that. But besides that, not really. I wouldn't say there would be anything that I wouldn't grow. I would say that some of the challenges of growing in an urban environment is all the things that are challenging about being in an urban environment. People stealing stuff and just a little bit of vandalism. But that comes with just being in an urban environment. I've got friends that don't grow in urban environments, and they’ve dealt with some of the same stuff. It’s like regular human existence stuff.
But besides that, one thing you do want to be careful of, be mindful of the space that you're going to be growing on. If you're in an urban environment, some spaces have a tendency to maybe have had a previous history where, let's just say it was a gas station. I would not recommend you try to start a garden on a gas station or a laundromat. Just because the chemicals, the oil, the gas, that kind of stuff, is in that soil, it's in the ground and plants really do take up whatever's in the soil. And so EPA has some recommendations around what to do. You would want to test your soil. I definitely tested my soil before I started growing. And you just want to make sure that it doesn't have any elevated levels of, really heavy metals is the biggest concern, and any other hydrocarbons or anything like that. Hydrocarbons will come from like oils and gases and things like that. Yeah, I mean, that is the only thing I would say to really be mindful of in an urban environment. Know the history of the site that you're getting ready to grow on, if it's like a standalone site, and try to test that soil. If you're not able to do that, then most people would grow in a raised bed or grow in containers so that you're not really growing in that soil in the ground, and you're growing in soil that you brought in.
Dr. Joy: Got it. Can you give us some tips about how we might identify what would be native or would typically thrive in our geographical location? I'm guessing (I'm also here in Atlanta) what we would grow here might be different than somebody who would be maybe in Arizona. How do we know what will thrive depending on our geographics?
Jamila: Okay, so what you want to find out is, you want to find out your growing zone. And there are zones, I think one through eight and maybe nine down in Florida. In Georgia, we’re zone, it used to be like 7b I think, or like 8 because it's just progressively gotten warmer. So you google what growing zone am I in? And then you're like plants and vegetables for that zone and it'll give you a list of the things you can grow. The difference between the zones is how long of a growing period you have. In the south, we pretty much can grow year-round. If you're up north, you might only have six months that you can grow something, and so it just really reduces the timeframe that you can grow. And then sometimes, for instance, you might pick a specific variety of a crop. Let's say I want to grow sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes generally take four months, 120 days. That's fine in Georgia. We’ve got sun for days, for a long time. But if you're up north, it's not warm early enough to put the plant in, so pick a different sweet potato variety that might produce in 90 days.
You're going to pick varieties specific to your zone and then there are just some things you won't be able to grow in certain zones, just because they don't do well with the cold, or they don't really do well with the heat. So yeah, find your growing zone and then just find out what those fruits and vegetables and the varieties that you can grow in that zone. But generally, I mean, not to be like I should have stock in these big box stores, but what they are carrying locally are the things that can grow in your region. They are shopping for the region. And then if you want things that are, say, not in that store, then you know you’re going to have to do a little bit more research, go online, find different varieties.
Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Jamila after the break.
Dr. Joy: Each episode of your Magnolia Network HBO show has a different theme. The themes are patience, discovery, inspiration - different themes, different life skills. Can you talk about the skills that are important in farming and why that was important to kind of name them in that way?
Jamila: Skills that are important, I would say definitely patience is a good one. Like discovery, just being open to the journey, not being super tied to an outcome. I still have crop failures, I still have things that I try a little bit different. Even after 13 years of doing something, things go wrong. The weather is different, or you tried a different variety. And they were like, oh, this is supposed to do this, and you try and you're like, that didn’t do that. Or, you know, just be open to constantly learning, being patient, and just be excited.
People are like, well, I don't have a green thumb. Well, hey, none of us have one until we do. Because it's practice, if it' s something that you're really committed to, you're just going to do a lot of reading, definitely connect with your broader community of other people that are growing, problem solve with other folks. Hey, did this do this for you? Because today people take notes, journaling is really good to know what you did, where it works. Sometimes, plants can, you know… I planted it over here, it didn't do so well. Let me try it over here, and then you're like, oh, this is a good spot for this plant. So yeah, just those qualities of constantly being open to learn, being patient, observant, and just try to build a community around you of people that are doing it, that you can talk to. And constantly be learning, reading, educating yourself. I read all about garden, I read gardening books for years long before I even started a garden. I just knew it was something I wanted to do so I was just filling myself with information, thinking about it and then the opportunity presented itself and I went for it.
Dr. Joy: You mentioned something that I want to follow up on, Jamila. You talked about the failure that sometimes happens, like when a crop doesn't happen. Can you talk a little bit more about how you feel like you are paying attention or attending to your mental health as a farmer? What kinds of things pop up that people might not anticipate that they may want to know about?
Jamila: The biggest thing, really as a farmer, is the weather. That is the thing that like you can do all the right things and then something crazy happens. Like too much rain or like it's dry for a really long time, so a drought. In Atlanta, we literally just had a major super freezing cold storm event. It was like negative 10 below. Me and all my farmer friends, we’d covered all of our beds and our plants and I had like 70%, 80% crop failure. In terms of full-grown plants that are just gone, so you know, it happens. That part of farming can be definitely… When you talk about mental health, farmers just being like, oh my god, what am I going to do? Because your farm is your livelihood. What you have in the ground, that’s your money. I'm growing my money. You said money doesn't grow on trees? Yes, it does if you’re a farmer. It grows on the fruit trees, it grows on those kale bushes, it does. That’s the money out there. Because we have to go sell that and that's how we make our money.
So when you have those failures, they can be really just like, whoa. Because you're trying to figure out - I have employees, I have myself, I've got bills. We’re running a business as a farmer. And so that's why it's important to have a network, we're talking to other farmers. There's a network of organizations that really support farmers, so they're looking for ways of how they can give us a little bit of money to help us get transplants, get some seeds back, get that back in the ground. I mean, you definitely have lost that time. You can’t gain that time back. You’ve got to say a prayer.
I literally just came back from vacation, they sent me a message and they were like, Jamila, how's it going? I said, you know what, y’all? I’m not thinking about it, I’m on vacation and when I get back, I will get to it. Because I can worry about it – it’s happened, right? And the end of the year is a time where things are growing slower. It’s a time that generally me and my farm staff and team, we take some time off. Because it's the holidays, stuff is growing slower anyways. Winter slows everything down so it's a really good time for us to take some time away and just sort of recoup. And I was like, I’m going to do that because there's no point in crying over spilt milk. Tomorrow, I'll be back on the farm and we’ll just go from there. But yeah, for some people it can be really detrimental.
Dr. Joy: We'd love it, Jamila, if you would use your expertise to help us with a little activity. We have a couple of scenarios that we want to share with you to see if you can give us some input on what these people should do with their farm or their garden. All right, so Rema put off gardening all of last year and is ready to get started today. She believes she has procrastinated long enough. She has a guest room in her apartment that has a ton of natural light. She loves to cook Eritrean food so she's looking for anything to reach back to her family's roots. What would you suggest she grew?
Jamila: Okay, actually, it's interesting. I grew a specific type of basil and a pepper this year that was both used heavily in that cuisine and it was called holy basil. Besobela is the type of basil, and it's one of those herbs that grows really well. Really easy, smells amazing. She will have to find the seeds and have to start them from seeds, but basil sprouts really well from seed. And then I grew this hot pepper. It's brown, and it's used heavily in that cuisine as well. Markofana was the name of the pepper, and peppers are also a summer crop that is super abundant. Most people that grow peppers are like, okay, you just need one pepper plant and it will produce a ton. In her apartment, the only thing with the pepper is it does need to be pollinated. Bees, butterflies, all kinds of things just need to kind of come and move. She might have to hand pollinate. You take a little brush, a little paintbrush, and you go from one flower to the next. That's how you hand pollinate. You’re just getting pollen from one flower and putting on the next and you just kind of do that a little bit.
I would do herbs. She could probably do some greens, some leafy greens. They don't need to be pollinated. Leafy greens in pots, keep them all near the window. If she needs to supplement with a grow light, do that. I would try a pepper and maybe a couple of tomatoes. Peppers and tomatoes would need their own... Like one pepper plant in at least a 12-inch pot, and tomatoes as well. Don’t crowd them. In a 12-inch pot, you could probably do maybe like three collards or kale or some kind of leafy green. And then basil can be like a six-inch pot. You can get bigger with basil, but yeah.
Dr. Joy: All right, that is a good start. Let's move on to our second person. Moranola is a Nigerian mother whose children have both moved out. With her free time, she wants to get into growing some fresh herbs. Moranola loves to have a fresh cup of tea every morning, so growing anything that she can add as a flavor to her tea, she wants to sign up. She plans to grow outside on her balcony, which gives a ton of sun, and she also wants to be mindful not to grow anything that will harm her dog. What would you suggest?
Jamila: Well, tea is really easy. You can grow mint, she can grow lavender, you can grow lemongrass, lemon balm. You can grow different types of basil. Some basils are really nice in teas. Rosemary, if she likes chamomile. From a balcony, you can grow a ton. You can grow a bunch of different herbs.
Dr. Joy: Lots of options there.
Jamila: Lots of options because now we've moved outside, we're giving them fresh air. Pollinators are coming. On the balcony, you’re also getting rain. You'll probably get a lot more sun. So kind of opens it up a lot more.
Dr. Joy: Got it. Okay, so we have one last one. Nialina is a new mom. She wants to start a small garden to begin teaching her son the value of growing your own food. She doesn't have a lot of time and needs something that will not die on her easily and also be fun for her son to interact with. She plans to start her garden on a windowsill that gets a ton of natural light but is also a rather small one. What suggestions would you have?
Jamila: I would do lettuces and greens. I would do some herbs. Kids surprisingly love radishes, which, who would have known? I started growing radishes with kids at school. They're beautiful, they're red. And when kids grow stuff themselves, they eat it. And radishes are a little spicy and kids like spicy things. They like takis and they like spicy chips, so radishes are kind of like that and they grow in like 30 days. It's fun. So it's like a root vegetable. Carrots might be a good one too because they don't need a lot of space. And then try cucumbers or tomatoes, because generally, kids are always like, yeah, we want to grow pickles. And I'm like, yeah, grow cucumbers and then you can make pickles. So they like pickles, that's a fun thing to grow with kids as well. Cucumbers produce faster and they will be a lot more easier than like tomatoes. But generally, those are the two. And I'm big on tomatoes. Peppers could be a good substitute for that as well.
Dr. Joy: Okay, I would not have thought that about radishes, but I love that you get to do that with kids.
Jamila: Kids love radishes and it's fun, it's easy. It sprouts really fast and it's beautiful. It's color. And then you can get really crazy with radishes in terms of the different color. Purple ones, white ones, pink ones, red ones. There are the ones that are round, ones that are long and skinny, so it can get really fun with radishes. And they're super good for you, too.
Dr. Joy: Got it. Something that you mentioned earlier, Jamila, that I want to go back to. You talked about how you will have sometimes elders visit the garden and really kind of feel like reconnecting to history and reconnecting to an older time. That's something else that I think is really important about your work, is that there is a clear reverence of the history of black folks in gardening and farming. Can you talk a little bit about maybe something that's overlooked, related to black farming, that you think people should know?
Jamila: Yeah. The narrative that we hear a lot around black farming is like, oh, we've lost so much farmers. And that is true, black people have lost a lot of farmland through all kinds of discriminatory practices. We didn't lose it, it was stolen from us (I like to use the right words) by our government. I don't think people really think black people are that connected to farming and to the land. And we really are, we have been carrying ancestral knowledge for a long time. It’s part of the reason we were brought to this country - not just labor, but really the knowledge that we had of working the earth, of growing things, of cultivating. Clothing, cotton, shelter, all the things. And so that was knowledge that we came with and that was knowledge that we retained and really passed down through different generations.
And so in all of our culinary traditions as well, it's very much food and land related in the sense of like Southern cuisine, Caribbean cuisine, African cuisine. I mean, it's so much of what's fresh, what's available. A lot of people talk about their grandparents, especially here in the south. You know how we used to go down south, we would visit our grandparents and we’d go out into the garden and you’d pick your peas or you picked your greens or you do this or you do that. I have memories of doing that when we lived in Trinidad. We would harvest vegetables, we'd harvest fruit off the tree. Go up to the mango tree, get this, go get this. And you know, we would be using that to fare our meals for the week. We have a rich history, it's still alive, it's just not publicized. And black people are still connected to the land, they're out here doing it, they love it, they have a deep respect and a reverence for it. And we know it's part of our healing and it's part of our story, and it will always be part of our story.
Dr. Joy: Something else you talk about is food sovereignty. Can you say a little bit about what that means to you and how it impacts us as black folks?
Jamila: Food sovereignty is really about having control of the food that you're consuming, having access to it. And also food that’s culturally relevant, food that is necessary for your cultural expression, through food because food is culture. And just being in the position to be part of creating food that is feeding your community. You're cultivating that food with a certain type of intention, of healing, of growth, of culture, of togetherness. And so that is going to carry on through the people that are engaging with you, that are buying from you, that are all of that.
And people want to see themselves reflected in the things that they're engaged with. If you're going healthy or going to the farm to table movement or what have you, and it all looks like everybody else, it doesn't feel like there's a space for you there. Or that you should be there. That ain’t for me. You know, and you hear people say that - that ain’t our thing. Yeah, it is, it actually was our thing before it was anybody else's thing. I'll be going off on people… Look here, let's talk about history. So it's really important for us to get connected. And again, like I said, everybody doesn't have to be a farmer, doesn't have to get into farming, but being connected to it, engaging with it. Find your black farmers, support them. If there's an opportunity to bring that to your school or your community or in your neighborhood, support it in some way and just uplift and highlight and do the work of being connected in some way.
Dr. Joy: Speaking of connection, how can we stay connected to you? What is your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?
Jamila: I am PatchworkCityFarms.com. It’s PatchworkCityFarms on Instagram and on Facebook. On the website, I have all the information about how you can support me kind of locally in buying of fresh produce. I do online sales. And you can come to some local farmers markets. Also, with Magnolia Network, you can watch the show Homegrown where we're showing people how to garden for themselves. That's available through HBO Max and Discovery+. The best way to contact me is an email and not through the DMs on the socials. I'm a little bit older than I probably present. And I am like I cannot do business on the Insta. Emails, FarmerJ@PatchworkCityFarms.com is the best way.
Dr. Joy: Perfect. We will be sure to include all of that in the show notes. Thank you so much for spending some time with us today.
Jamila: Thank you for having me.
Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Jamila was able to share her expertise with us today. If you're interested in watching her new show Homegrown, it's now streaming on HBO Max, Amazon and Discovery+. To learn more about her, you can also visit TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session290. And don't forget to text two of your girls and tell them to check out the episode right now. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory. And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.