“Like Fannie Lou Hamer She’s Setting The Scales Right”
Written by Jamie Cooley
For generations Nubian/Black Indigenous women have been the pillars upholding the foundations of sustainability in the South — grandmothers, mothers aunts, are our first teachers to share their innovative, active leadership and inspirations within our villages in the very heart of rural and urban communities. They “make a way out of no way”, their knowledge and emotionally rooted passion plays a crucial role in agriculture.
Mama Raishlyn Grant embodies this cultural equity, that is passed down through blood or by association. In Mama Raishlyn’s story, it’s through the blood. Mama Raishlyn was born a nature child, standing on the shoulders of her grandmothers and her mother, who were horticulturalists that grew and propagated their own flowers, herbs, and some produce showing then, Daughter Raishlyn, the roots of the trade of sustaining oneself on the land.
As an Atlanta Native, it is imperative that we honor Mama Raishlyn, her voice and experience. She has given her heart and soul to the infrastructure of urban farming and sustainability in Atlanta.
Fannie Lou Hamer once said, “When you’ve got 400 quarts of greens and gumbo soup canned for the winter, nobody can push you around or tell you what to say or do.”
Mama Raishlyn has been preparing our people to do just that, by investing much of her time and teaching efforts with our children. In 2015, she began teaching fourth grade students at Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, focusing on horticulture and agricultural collaboration including nutritional education, seed saving, plant conservation, landscape restoration, environmental awareness, and soil management. Impactfully building the bridge between what’s taught on her farm or in her classroom into the children’s home. Results from her students rave about their families eating healthier and even reconnecting their own parents back to the land. Her work earned her the opportunity to be the first Agriculture and Environmental Specialist for CHC, constructing a school-wide integration of nature-based learning curriculum within Georgia’s core standards.
The coronavirus pandemic, and the related shutdown of most businesses, dealt an unprecedented blow to the U.S. economy, dragging the nation into the worst downturn since the Great Depression, triggering a surge in layoffs and bankruptcies. Amid the outbreak and the new economic shift, came more racial violent aggression and discrimination throughout the US, effecting the already eroding trust between Nubian/Black families and local/federal government. These unfortunate repetitive realities have even cross lines into the agricultural scene as trust for nonprofits sinks to new lows, where farmers who are doing the work are met with not being able to share their ideas or receive resources to provide for their communities due to gentrification of land and project ideas.
We have been here before. In 1969 Fannie Lou Hamer founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative on 40 acres of prime delta land. Her goal was to empower poor Black farmers, sharecroppers, and families, who had suffered during another economic decline at the mercy of White landowners, business owners, and policemen. Land, jobs and ideas were stolen, and lost.
Hamer once said, “The time has come now when we are going to have to get what we need ourselves. We may get a little help, here and there, but in the main we’re going to have to do it ourselves”.
With Mama Raishlyn’s skills, she shows us how we can do for ourselves and actually rise up during a time where so much depression and lack is hovering in our communities. With the herbs she grows she created an added value product, Mama Raishlyn’s Bliss Herbal Teas, an herbal tea that is formulated with all-natural ingredients, some of which she grows personally, including a mint variety, that is indigenous to Georgia.
We sat down with Mama Raishlyn to ask her some questions.
What type of support do you think would be most beneficial to black growers in Atlanta? *
Grants and other funding to land access.
What have been your most impactful lessons working with food organizations in Atlanta? *
In working with organizations like Truly Living Well, PatchWork City Farms and Grow Where You Are, the lessons that have made the most impact have come from working alongside extraordinary growers who have discovered and taught me diverse ways of growing healthy foods in the urban setting. I have witnessed and experienced the unwavering passion and dedication that it takes in working an urban farm. I have discovered that urban farming/growing community, is truly a “calling” for me, and it takes a sincere desire and commitment to execute the work of feeding the people. I have learned to start where I can and serve where I can, and don’t wait for everything to be “perfect”. I have learned that Atlanta has the most passionate and dedicated folks working to maintain food organizations that truly impact families.
How necessary is it for young black people to get involved with agriculture as producers and how do we go about encouraging them? *
As the Executive Director over South West Atlanta Growers (SWAG), for a couple of years, I was able to organize youth organizations to come to the local urban farms in West End to learn and witness the work of urban farming, and every child seemed to be changed in some way after experiencing these tours. They seemed to appreciate nature more and respect the work of the farmer. As an Agriculture Education teacher in public school for 5 years, I have witnessed the reward of creating learning experiencing that allowed youth to learn hands on how to construct, maintain and eat from seasonal learning gardens. I have witnessed youth become excited about learning to grow food as a way of experiencing new fruits, vegetables and herbs. I have witness youth become excited about growing their own gardens and wanting to attend college in the field of Agriculture, just by taking my classes in school. Some students have even wanted to become farmers. Additionally, these learning experiences in the garden and the classroom have encouraged the youth to obtain healthier diets for themselves and their families, and become more conscious of those foods they are eating. It’s important to engage our youth in hands on learning, farm/agriculture field-trips to expose them to possible college and career paths in the field of Agriculture. It’s necessary to engage the youth in the black community to get involved in Agriculture as a positive outlet, invoke the memory of our ancestral work, encourage healthy eating, create a new generation of black growers to help sustain our generations, and communities for the future. The emphasis of educating through Agriculture also creates well-rounded youth who grow into well-rounded adults to have a “voice” in how our communities are fed and structured. I think the strongest way to encourage the youth is by offering more opportunities in schools for this type of learning, and more community projects that engage the whole family to participate in volunteering. It’s important for us to be more diligent about creating educational opportunities in Agriculture for our youth so that they will know where our food comes from and how to change practices that are not environmentally safe and to produce foods that are healthier for consumption. Our youth need opportunities to learn and grow into the mindset that cares and protects our planet. They need to learn ways of “sustainability”, in order to maintain community and our survival on the planet.
Would you please outline your long standing experience in the Atlanta food system? *
National Women in Agriculture Education Award recipient 2019, GA Chapter. Presented by GA Chapter Chair: Noreen Whitehead and National Chair: Dr. Tammy Steele at Agnes Scott College.
Volunteer farm worker- Truly Living Well Urban Farms- (2010-2012)
Volunteer farm worker- PatchWork City Farms- (2012-2014)
Volunteer farm worker- Good Shepherd Church Urban Farms (2012-2014)
Volunteer farm worker- West End Urban Farms (2012-2014)
Executive Director (SWAG) South West Atlanta Growers- (2013-2015)
West End Farmers & Artisans Market Manager (WEFAM)- (2013-2015)
Civic Leader Volunteer-Urban Farm Projects-Hands On Atl -(2013-2015)
Agriculture & Environmental Specialist Teacher- Chattahoochee Hills Charter School- (2015-2020)
Agriculture Summer Camp Teacher- various summer camps in Atlanta (2015-2020)
What is your favorite plant to harvest?
Herbs and sunflowers are my favorite plants to grow because the herbs are medicinal and are used in my healing work. Sunflowers are a joy to grow due to the unique changes that occur during their matriculation. I enjoy watching the bees pollinate this plant and harvesting the seeds at the end of its growth.
What acts of character should Black women emphasize when working together to create sustainability for our families?
Utilizing our headstrong mindset, our spirit of determination, connecting with one another and seeking sisterly unity, being intune with self in order to manifest our goals, and to channel the spirit of motherhood, by mothering our children, nurturing our men and tending to the land.
In conclusion, Mama Raishlyn asks us, in her beautiful Atlanta native accent “What the hell are you doing”?
One question I had to ask myself as a journalist, what am I doing to contribute to our farmers, so that we can live the reality of independence from colonial powers over us and to experience freedom on the land. This article I hope is another seed planted in the dark fertile soil, towards that manifestation.
Purchase Mama Raishlyn’s Bliss Herbal Teas directly from Mama Raishlyn, contact her on Instagram @mamaraishlynsbliss https://instagram.com/mamaraishlynsbliss/