Food justice entrepreneur Quianah Upton is planting a legacy of nourishment and healing.
– KEYS SOULCARE
Care to take your green-thumbed rituals a few steps beyond plant parenthood? That’s where you’ll find women like Quianah Upton, food justice advocate, entrepreneur, and founder of Atlanta-based Nourish Botanica Greenhouse and forthcoming Nourish Botanica Cafe, envisioned as a gathering space for civic leaders, social justice entrepreneurs, and a healing space.
We sat down to chat about the positive impact of communal gardening — from the calming effects of tending to plants on a daily basis to the community bonds made possible by nurturing nature back.
What inspires you to create community around plants and nourishment?
About four years ago, my father passed away and I inherited all of his plants. I was already hosting social fundraising justice dinners, creating space for food justice organizers to tell their stories. We were creating flower arrangements and nourishment of the social kind. I’d already begun writing a business plan, but it had been in flux for years. When I came home with all of my dad’s plants, my roommate at the time commented, “You should add a plant shop.”
I met a wonderful veteran gardener named Maurice Small, who became a mentor and helped me start to grow into this.
Was creating a physical space around plants a big pivot for you, or something that felt natural?
I’m from the Virgin Islands by way of the Stanley Terrace Projects [in Florida]. There was also a point when we were homeless. Fast forward to going to college and creating events and this “thing” I was doing with dinners, and I knew that I wanted a brick and-mortar [space]. Needing a “place” has always been important to me. And, when I picture what a comfortable, welcoming home feels like, plants are and have always been there.
The plant parent movement — especially in the last few years — has been so big. It seems that we all realized how good it feels to take care of something besides ourselves, on this grand scale. But it feels like just a small part of the type of project you’re creating.
I love the fact that people connected with plants so much last year. I’m so here for that. I really believe in the wisdom of like plant friendships and plant spirits — beyond the fact that we literally breathe what they need and they breathe what we need.
It was no coincidence [that] around the world last year, when we could have done anything, everybody wanted to garden or have a plant. And, it helped us all to regenerate.
What do communal gardens do for communities?
In Atlanta, for example, so many community gardens are at an intersection or crossroad. A lot of people are going to pass by it. It’s going to bring people together, because it’s so accessible whether you’re walking or biking, whatever.
So it’s automatically more than a space where you or I would grow something for our families. It’s an intergenerational space. It’s a gathering space. It’s a place that youth and their parents can share. It’s a space to learn, grow, and kick it all at the same time.
What are a few of your personal garden soulcare rituals?
Ha! I knew this question was coming, and I hesitated a little. But, you know what? I don’t care: I believe in fairies. Not just because of childhood magic, but also because I always have this feeling when I’m in a green space to care for it. To clean up a little bit of trash.
Another is to just find a tree and stand with it for a while. I’ll look for the tree that kind of sits over all of the others. I call them “tree ladies.” They’re like the grand ladies of old neighborhoods; the ones that know everyone’s business and kind of watch over everyone. I’ll take off my shoes and sit and just kind of vibe with them. Again, just knowing that my “toxins” don’t hurt them and their “toxins” don’t hurt me is so centering.
How can we better support community gardens and projects like yours to continue to grow that goodness?
Something this last year taught me — after applying for every grant in the world and pitching for [all kinds of funding] — was that what does things is people. It’s great to have validation from big sponsors or buzz, but I’d rather have 3,000 people give me five dollars that say, “I believe in you” and co-create an ecosystem where we can [all] thrive.
And, once you find one, look around those sharing our community and mission. Here in Atlanta, there are others such as Mariposa Rebeldes, Umi Feeds, and so many others. In the world, there are groups like Black Food Justice and Black Girls With Gardens that offer so much, for free, to anyone who wants to learn and share. We’re everywhere! It’s a testament to the fact that we’re stronger together than as individuals doing anything.
What’s your highest vision for the work that you’re doing?
I want to be a physical representation of the glory of the universe: healing, manifestation, and co-creating with the universe. Somebody whose kids’ kids will be saying, “There’s Miss Quianah down the street. She’s 80 now, but she started Nourish Botanica, and the community all helped. She planted all these trees and herbs, and helped heal all these people.” I want to be that victory story, you know?
What green spaces and causes are on your mind lately? Share in the comments!