I wanted to be a Park Ranger when I graduated from high school, but I was in Florida then, a woman in the 80's, black and not bilingual so I didn't even have the courage to pursue it. Not to mention, my family would have looked at me as if I had three heads, which they do anyway. I studied Psychology for three semesters in college until Mum ran out of money and then moved to New York to study acting. I am an empath thrust into the most anxiety ridden city in the world. Of course, I didn't know that then.
I grew locks immediately when I left home in love with Bob Marley, who coincidently, passed on in Miami at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. I found his music when I was fourteen and my rebel heart opened. I knew he was the face of freedom. Of course, to this day there is no place for locks in show business outside of Whoopi Goldberg who still has to don a wig in movies. Whoopi Goldberg and Madonna inspired me to move to New York. I couldn't spend the rest of my life constantly concerned with my physical image so I had to move on from acting in my mid-twenties. I thought I should pursue my love of the the natural world and would find more options in New York. I began with studying for a Certificate of Horticulture at Brooklyn Botanic Garden and also studied at New York Botanical Garden and Bronx Community College for an Associates Degree in Horticulture. I was working in Riverside Park, Manhattan, by then. I wanted an alternative view of plants which led me to Susun Weed and the Wise Woman Center where I found my life's work - herbs.
I moved upstate in 2006, switching into agriculture at Stone Barns in Tarrytown. I knew I wanted to farm. Dutchess County was one of the most affordable then, which is what brought me to Beacon. Racism dogs the African American thoroughly and strong I now know, throughout one's life and though I can navigate the constant white spaces I find myself in, I know that I forge my own path as an herbalist. I love to grow and fortunately I have found my ancestors (Great Grandfathers) who were farmers, not to mention my indigenous cultural heritage (Arawak/Caribe) who were also engaged with the land which affords me the opportunity to believe in the Native American tenet "We belong to the earth, the earth does not belong to us." I know I have engaged Spirit in my work and I constantly receive gifts of Spirit.
I grow our Winter stores. Kale (Brassica oleracea, Brassicaceae, Biennial, Europe). For years I grew six feet, but I have since increased it to fifteen feet to get a pot of greens from one harvest. I start making pots of greens in August and freeze portions for Christmas supper. Kale contains calcium, iron, beta carotene, vitamins E an C. It is considered a primitive cabbage.
A word about processing. The farming journey, for me has been a delightful process of discovery. As the possibilities for Winter stores unfolded, I fell in love with the processing of the harvest come August. I realized our earlier selves only concerned with the days work before we were shifted off the lands and crammed into cities. We live simply, but the quality of life is peaceful and connected to Spirit.
Sargent-Downing Community Garden (SDG) is grown communally. Individual plots can be found up the road at Stonykill and at SDG's height we had five members and one of the gifts a member left me with are Beets (Beta vulgaris, subs. vulgaris, Chenopodiaceae, Biennial, ancient Assyria (today Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Iran)). I love to make pickles and pickled Beets are so good in a Winter pasta salad with Pesto. Higher in carbohydrates than most vegetables, Beets are also a good source of folic acid and potassium.
I have always had digestive issues, which is why I love fermented foods, so good for gut flora. I grow a thirty foot bed of Green and Red Cabbage (Brassica oleracea, Brassicaceae, Biennial, Asia Minor, eastern Mediterranean). I make three and a half gallons of Sauerkraut for Winter, one of the best ways to get one's greens in Winter. I remember when I was a child coming home from school and taking a fork to the bag of sauerkraut we kept in the fridge. Cabbage is rich in beta carotene and vitamin C, outer leaves of green varieties contain vitamin E.
I love origins, which is why I mention them here. I believe they will serve to unravel this mess of sexism, classism and racism in which we find ourselves today. We can learn to appreciate the contributions of our world family through our fundamental need - food. Cultural bias would have to fall away as we revere these contributions.
Engaged in indigenous education, our group Neetopk Keetopk (www.neetopkkeetopk.org) go back to the old ways of our Native American family and grow the Three Sisters, Corn, Beans and Squash. These three "sisters" are the cornerstone of the native's diet and the gift to the European settlers in early America. Today, unfortunately, Corn is as denigrated as the Native American, not even grown for human consumption, fed to cows (who don't eat corn) to fatten them and subsidized by the USDA for its byproducts, one of which, High Fructose Corn Syrup, is now used to sweeten our food and responsible for the rise of diabetes, especially in pregnant women. Maize is the original name for Corn and it was not as sweet, used for grain and fodder. Corn is thought to have originated in Mexico around 7000 BCE. Corn comes in a variety of colors from yellow to blue to black often found in South America. Corn ranks third behind wheat and rice as one of the most important cereals in the world. Corn (Zea mays, Graminae, Annual, Mexico) is high in carbohydrates, fiber, also contains protein and vitamin B.
Bean (Phaseolus vulgaris, Papilionaceae, Annual) also comes from Mexico as well as Guatemala and parts of the Andes. Settlers found the beans running up the Corn plant providing starch and protein for the natives. Corn provides a stake for the Beans, Beans provide nutrients to the soil and Squash shades out the weeds. A lovely symbiosis. Folklore speaks of the natives placing a fish in the Three Sisters mound as fertilizer. Beans contain potassium, folic acid, beta carotene and protein. Squash also originates in the Americas cultivated for up to 10,000 years. Pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima, Pumpkin and Squash, Cucurbita moschata, Summer and Winter Squash, Cucurbita pepo, Cucurbitaceae, Annual). From Zucchini in the Summer to Pumpkin in Autumn, we have a huge variety of food to choose from, high in beta carotene, also containing vitamin C and folic acid. Surely, the madness of today can stem back to this ungrateful European who denigrated this people who gifted them with nourishment in the "New World." On the flip side we can raise discussion about the circumstances of this now demon, leaving Africa so long ago. Paradise Lost? We know the "white devil" abhors the natural world and can only see dominance where our native family dwells within Her as family.
I wild forage Wild Salad April through June and then come July I harvest a Mustard Mix, Pink Lettucy Mustard, Ruby Streaks and Tatsoi. It all started at Stone Barns where we would bag a Salad Mix and a Mustard Mix for our farmers market. For us, it's the perfect variation after a a season of wild greens. Mustard Greens (Brassica juncea, Brassicaceae, central Asia, Himalayas). Sanskrit records show Mustard Greens have been cultivated since 3000 BCE. Annual and Biennial, Mustard Greens contain vitamin A and C, calcium, iron, potassium and phosphorus.
Stone Barns had an abundance of Parsley one season so my first Pesto was Parsley, a bright green welcome nourishment in the dead of Winter. We don't open our Pesto (I store five quarts) until January after the joy and delight of the holidays. Only in recent years have I made Basil Pesto. I have also used Walnuts as well as Cheese to make a low fat Pesto. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum, Umbelliferae, Biennial, South Europe) contains beta carotene, vitamin C and iron. I was inspired to make Parsley Pesto when I read that Parsley is used as a vegetable in the Middle East.
Last but certainly not least, the beloved Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum, Solanaceae, Perennial grown as an Annual, Andes), another gift from our Turtle Island region. Tomatoes were considered poisonous in Europe initially because of the strong smell and bright colors, then later an aphrodisiac earning the name Love Apple. Of course, we now associate them with Italians and I've even heard Germans. I grow Tomato with Basil of course, the strong smell warding of insects, Basil (Ocimum basilicum, Labiatae, tropical Asia) also associated with Italy, but who do they have to thank for a staple of their cuisine? Asia! I make a quart of Tomato sauce for Goat Lasagna for Christmas. Caribbeans are raised on goat meat. I also make a quart of oven dried tomatoes.
To find unity and an appreciation of our global family, we need look no further than one of our basic needs - food. Surely, in recognizing our individual contributions, there would no longer be the need for cultural bias, especially in recognizing the tens of thousands of years our contributors existed before "discovery."