Return to Part 1 of our 2021 Catalog: Stories of Resilience.

Stories of Resilience

Abigail Shaw is a micro farmer and full time student in Northern Florida. Abigail faced challenges when the pandemic hit as it limited her ability to advertise her flowers to the community, to connect with other local farmers and to get her message out to the public. As the country began to quarantine, Abigail saw the opportunity to build the essential networks she once had in person, online. “Learning to do everything virtually was fun. One of the things I made on social media to help with business was a video series discussing different gardening tips for farmers as well as how to start a garden during quarantine.” 

Moving sales and ordering into the virtual realm has given Abigail some new ideas for how her flower farm can have a bigger impact. "I want Izzie’s Flowers to be more than a small farm that produces flowers. I want to make it a virtual community that helps other young people and entrepreneurs get on their way to making a difference in the world."

Abigail grows flowers, vegetables and herbs and has had an interest in organic, small scale agriculture since 2016. “I watched a video on the way that commercially grown flowers are produced and preserved. They are filled with so many toxins that we then bring into our homes. I was appalled and I wanted to help put an end to it. From that moment, I became intrigued by the world of organic flower farming and it's been a journey ever since.”

There are other benefits to working with sustainable systems, beyond just reducing chemical inputs. Abigail sees many aspects of organic growing as having benefits that could help growers with production. “Sustainability is achievable with proper planning. I personally believe it is something that a lot of farms should implement. For example, with the use of crop rotation, a sustainable method, the depletion of a single mineral in the soil can be minimalized.”

To Abigail, hope is a seed, and where seeds are sown, dreams can grow. “Seeds mean the beginning of something beautiful. In the flower world, when you plant a seed, there’s hope that it’s going to become a beautiful plant with blooms. Just like plants, dreams all start with a seed and, if nurtured and cared for, they will grow into something beautiful. Everything in life begins with a seed.”

Gabrielle Perez is a 21-year-old climate activist and senior at Fordham University majoring in Environmental Studies with a minor in Economics. She’s been busy in college, working for nonprofits, running social mission clubs through Fordham University and using her creative talents to raise money for organizations doing social justice and urban growing work in New York City. Gabrielle understands the importance of funding programs that help those in need. Using some of her entrepreneurial instincts, she has been able to raise money for organizations contributing to the spread of food and agricultural access around the city. “Through our social mission club at school, we raise money and donate it to food justice organizations throughout NYC. Over the years, with the on-campus pop-up thrift store we started and through holding other events, we have been able to raise over $2,000 for a local non-profit called Green Bronx Machine that works with elementary schools to educate students about the importance of healthy eating, how to grow their own veggies and also runs the Food for Others Garden that children learn and grow in.”

When it comes to sustainability, Gabrielle sees our potential for achieving it only when we dedicate to taking care of and valuing one another, as well as feeling gratitude for the connections we benefit from as a result of biodiversity. “To me, humans will be able to live truly sustainable lives when we all respect each other's individual pursuit of health and happiness and actively help each other in fulfilling these goals. We must recognize and admire the ways in which all forms of life on this planet are connected to each other and feel grateful for having those invisible strings attached to us.” 

“I am hopeful about our food system because I know more and more people are becoming aware of its destructive reality and are making changes to combat it. For example, the number of small organic farms, the amount of people joining CSAs, the amount of community gardens in cities, the presence of vegetarian/vegan options in restaurants are all on the rise.” 

The necessary changes must come from each of us accepting accountability, Gabrielle feels. We all have a chance to look at our own practices and habits and make choices that bring prosperity to our beloved communities and natural spaces. "We must not make excuses for ourselves by claiming it is a part of human nature to be greedy. We are fully capable of overcoming our faults and ushering in an era of radical love. Feeling a sense of community and loving those around you and feeling loved by them is the only thing that matters and brings true joy.” 

Gabrielle and those of her generation who have chosen hope and action over cynicism and indifference represent our possible future. As our youth bravely envision a prosperous, just and green world, we are tasked with doing everything in our power to support their momentum through hearts and minds opened to change.

Becky Bazille is the owner and operator of Northshore Greens in Covington, Louisiana. The farm is a small-scale, no-till operation with a focus on regenerative farming practices. Specializing in salad greens, Asian greens and culinary herbs, Northshore opened for business at the beginning of 2020. It was an interesting year to start a farming operation. While challenges arose from the ever-changing restrictions and regulations regarding food safety, the demand for locally sourced produce soared. “2020 was our first growing season. Our first farmers market was March 14, right when all the Covid-19 restrictions began and the demand for local food increased every week. There is a hunger for change in our food system and the response from our local community is a sure sign of it. We sold out 14 of the 15 markets.”

As each individual business was forced to clear different hurdles, Becky counts herself as one of the lucky producers whose support from the community saw them through to harvest. “Gratefully, I can’t say that we had any real challenges from Covid-19. Our market was open, and we had eager customers every week waiting for our greens. All of our greens and herbs had to be bagged, which was an added step and expense, however, necessary during this time.”

This enthusiasm from her customers is something that Becky attributes to the deeply cherished food traditions of Louisiana. “Food creates common ground; most people enjoy talking about food but in South Louisiana folks LOVE talking about food. The stories are just bubbling over each week as customers trade tales of how they prepared last week's farmers market bounty. It warms my heart.”

The year may have been surprisingly smooth for Northshore Greens, but the current state of the food system and our complex and ofttimes detrimental relationship to our living planet was highlighted by the crises of 2020. Becky’s passion for the work comes from a deep and honest desire to be a part of the solution. “We are being fed but not nourished; the deteriorating health of humans and the planet is begging for change. There have been so many acts of disrespect to our planet. My greatest hope as a farmer is to demonstrate acts of respect and regeneration for this planet we all share.”

Brian Truong is a nature enthusiast, tinkerer, stay at home Dad and an avid and experienced gardener in Zone 10b of Southern California. Brian has found success on his journey growing food in his garden for his family through the melding of many different growing approaches. Combining methodology found in farming, traditional gardening and permaculture, Brian roots his practice in what he calls, “Earth Systems Science.” By being attuned to the unique needs of each plant and providing the growing conditions necessary for optimal production with limited inputs, Brian has spent the last 11 years honing an efficient system that generates a bounty for his young family, every season.

“To modernize gardening, I am growing for small yields, variety, and successive harvests. In a garden bed, I may plant a few varieties of tomatoes and a handful of different greens in succession. The harvests epitomize the ‘garden to table’ experience. This way of growing is a break away from the classic method of one large harvest per bed per cycle. For a specific example, I may get an idea of what our next meal will be when I am out working or enjoying the garden or I may base what we cook by going into the garden to see what is available. When we found potatoes and scotch bonnet peppers, we headed to our herb garden for thyme, parsley, and green onions. With those ingredients, I made a garden to table Jamaican Curry Goat.”

When it comes to the fate of our world given the challenges we currently face, Brian sees our greatest hope sprouting directly from our ability to consider and care for one another. “To me sustainability is a human centered approach that maintains the harmony of our planet. When we can take care of people by extending humanity to all, we will naturally become less likely to rely upon reaping natural resources in order to survive. One way to extend humanity is to provide more hours in a day to all for personal fulfillment. The positive energy generated from free time will better enable more to take larger roles as stewards of our planet."

Brian sees the potential for each of us to embody the change we seek. “As individuals we can build a better, more just world by slowing down and being mindful about consumption. Economics in its simplest form is concerned with the management of scarce resources. By nature of economics when we consume, we take away from the supply. The more we consume, the greater the scarcity. Scarcity leads to social inequalities. If we slow down and live a more fulfilling life, we will not rely on consumption to make us happy or in other words relieve the stress of our fast-paced lifestyles. The more we need money to consume, the more we give up our freedoms to attain it. The less free we become, the more likely we are to disenfranchise others. Be above the influence, be true to yourself and reassess the resources needed in order to make you happy.”

Chaz Daughtry is the farmer and owner of Sweetwater Farm HTX in Houston, Texas. Managing 6 acres of urban farmland using organic practices, Chaz produces food that is distributed to local restaurants, local farmers markets and to individuals living under conditions of food apartheid. His farm is also a classroom where he shares the ins and outs of organic farming with youth in hopes of inspiring future agrarians and agricultural innovators. Chaz’s own journey into agriculture started when he was in the 4th grade. “As a child I was always fascinated with food and agriculture, so much that I would tell my teachers in the 4th grade that I was going to be an Agriculturist. My passion led me to study Agriculture and Economics at Texas A&M.”

Being an organic producer in an urban area, the effects of the pandemic were felt immediately. “My biggest challenge during the start of the pandemic was figuring out how I could keep growing produce for families living in food deserts, while keeping my workers and myself safe. Due to Covid-19, farmer markets in our area stopped for a couple of months, so we had to find new ways to get our produce to our community. We decided to create a website and started selling our veggies online through a pre-order system. Our online pre-order system allowed us to serve our previous customers and reach a new audience.”

Much like many other growers who endured the evolving restrictions and regulations brought about by Covid-19, Chaz experienced a surge in interest in his locally produced foods. “The world is finally realizing how much we depend on the food system to survive! When Covid-19 began the grocery shelves were empty and for the first time, some people finally realized the importance of our local farmers. Covid-19 revealed how much we really need to appreciate everyone, from the local farmers to the delivery drivers.”

Being an essential worker during these difficult times spread Chaz and his team thin as they rose to meet the growing demand. This, in Chaz’s mind, revealed the limitations we currently face as the age of farmers continues to rise and less land overall is utilized and/or available to grow food. “I think we need to increase the number of local farmers and community gardens. There are so many food deserts in the United States, and I believe if people had more access to food, or knew how to grow their own, we would not have as many families going hungry.”

A fundamental part of what Chaz believes to be his purpose in this life, is to serve as a role model for youth. Not only has he accepted this call to action, he is an advocate for others stepping up to the task as well. “As individuals, we could make a difference by mentoring children. Every child needs a great mentor and someone to look up to. I believe mentoring youth at an early age has a huge, positive impact on the world.” This is something that he personally explores on his farm in Houston, Texas where he hopes to inspire the newest generation of farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs.

“At our farm we teach youth about agriculture, nutrition, and entrepreneurship with the partnership of the non-profit Texas Women's Empowerment Foundation. I love seeing the smiles on the kids' faces when they finally get to eat something that they have spent weeks of hard work growing. Sharing agriculture with youth is so important because it creates new opportunities. Often the youth that we work with are only thinking about becoming a professional athlete, doctor or lawyer, but with our farm we can expose them to the world of agriculture. We let them know that agriculture has so much to offer such as ag tech, ag science and ag engineering."

Stay tuned for Part 3 of our series 2021 Catalog: Stories of Resilience which will go live on December 14th.