From the Backyard: Black entrepreneurs hope pandemic gardening increase will develop more healthy consuming


Ietef Vita had planned to spend most of 2020 on the road promoting “Biomimicz”, the album the rapper released on his #plantbasedrecords label in January. Vita, known to his fans as “DJ Cavem Moetavation” and “Chef Ietef”, unexpectedly cut these plans.

“We were in Berkeley, California, played there on February 29th, and literally got out of town just before they shut the whole country down,” recalls Vita, 34, who has performed for the Obamas and widely considered the father what is known as eco-hip-hop is true. “It was scary.”

Suddenly, Vita had to take a break in his Denver subway apartment with his wife, Alkemia Earth, a plant-based lifestyle coach, and three daughters. Eventually he accepted that he would have to sit and, as the saying goes, bloom where it was planted.

With the help of his wife, he started a spontaneous campaign: He sent thousands of the more than 42,000 packets of kale, beet and rocket seeds that he wanted to sell at his shows, all with his resemblance and the QR code, to his digital listen to album. Using a crowdfunding campaign, he sent them free to urban farmers the couple could think of anywhere – Minneapolis, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Chicago, New York City, several parts of California, and his hometown of Denver. He hoped the seeds could help alleviate food shortages and long lines in grocery stores and food banks in economically disadvantaged communities that were hard hit during the pandemic.

His efforts to produce beets with his beats were a success. And more than a year later, his seed business continues to grow. Vita is among a growing list of black gardening enthusiasts who became entrepreneurs across the country. You run seed companies that have benefited from the pandemic-inspired global horticultural boom that seed vendors who are still overwhelmed with business hopefully won’t let up anytime soon.

Gods Garden Girl, Coco and Seed, Urban Farms Garden Shop and I Grow Shit are all black-owned companies that share in Vita’s mission to attract more diverse people to the garden and illuminate it as an active, pandemic-proof pastime that enables healthy eating .

It also provides an escape from stress, including racial stress that intermittently boiled and exploded after the Minneapolis murder of George Floyd.

Research has shown that exposure to plants and green spaces while gardening is beneficial for mental and physical health. A 2018 article in Clinical Medicine found that just looking at plants can reduce stress and reduce feelings of fear, anger, or sadness by lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and also relieving muscle tension. The same report urged health professionals to encourage their patients to spend time in green spaces and work in gardens.

Leah Penniman, a farmer and food activist in New York, wrote in her book Farming While Black that Black America’s association with seeds dates back to the days of enslavement when some Africans braided seeds in their hair when they were at home were sent away. It was, as Penniman wrote, “insurance for an uncertain future”.

But many blacks in the US have since deliberately abandoned farming because of its association with the painful legacy of slavery, said Natalie Baszile, author of a recently published anthology on African American farmers and the novel “Queen Sugar,” which wrote the Oprah-inspired Winfrey Network’s television drama centers on a black family’s Louisiana farm.

“Part of our cultural narrative has been moving away from the land because moving away is progress,” Baszile said. “The further you are from the country, the more successful you are. You go to school, you get your education, you get another degree, you get a job in an area where you don’t have your hands in the ground. “

But Baszile also hopes the seed and gardening trend will inspire more blacks to see the health benefits of gardening. “It’s a therapeutic element to plant outside, even if it’s just a flower garden,” she said. “It is absolutely necessary, healthy and meditative, to go outside and do something physical. you move your body, you move, you breathe clean air, you connect with the earth. “

And she said the connection to the soil empowers people, whether they grow their own food or sell seeds as entrepreneurs.

Melanated Organic Seeds owner Devona Stevenson agrees. She said she started gardening in 2018 to relax after suffering from depression. In June last year, she started her seed business at the height of the pandemic because she saw a need that dates back even to her days near Miami.

“All I saw around me was fast food and people eating junk food from the corner store,” said Stevenson, who is moving from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to nearly 2 acres in Fayetteville, Georgia. “I think representation is important. Basically, I saw a need and decided to fill it. For me, it’s also about reaching an untapped market, a group of people that haven’t really been marketed in terms of gardening and farming. “

Your efforts do not go unnoticed. Stevenson said her list of Instagram followers has grown from 7,000 to more than 20,000 since she started posting gardening tips last July. She said she believes many black seed business owners like her are driven by the need for education and economic empowerment.

“My business is for all people – we are all people – but I happen to be a black woman and a business owner, and if anyone out there wants to support a black-owned business, a black garden business, we give them this opportunity” , she said.

Vita’s entrepreneurial drive to “plant seeds,” as he calls it, also appears to be having an impact. The online site Thrillist named him one of their “Heroes of 2020”, and Oscar winner Natalie Portman added his “Sprout That Life” line, which costs around $ 19 for three packs of 55 to 100 seeds each her list of top gift tips for 2020 included in the December issue of People magazine. Actor Mark Ruffalo followed by a public donation for Vita’s GoFundMe campaign which supported his seed distribution efforts and resulted in social media shoutouts from rapper Cardi B and comedian Cedric the Entertainer.

Vita said he saw the fruits of his efforts in the photos people sent him of the food that grew from his seeds. He couldn’t be more proud of how he reaches out to color communities, especially black communities, which he said disproportionately live in food deserts and plagued by health inequalities. “I wanted to change the way they eat, let alone change the economic approach,” he said.

To date, with the help of crowdfunding, he has distributed more than 20,000 of his seed packages for free. He hopes the effort, along with his online demonstrations on vegan cooking and gardening, will help inspire more blacks to try a plant-based diet and spark a growing exercise.

“If we can flood our community with unhealthy food and drugs, I think we can flood them with seeds and love, too,” he said. “We can flood it with positivity and urban agriculture and juice bars. without gentrification, without replacement of urban renewal. “

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