Meet MJ from Atlanta, United States

“I’m a wife and a mom that believes in the power of growing food as an act of love for my family, friends and community.

As a young child in Jamaica and on all my visits back, I was surrounded by fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and livestock on my family’s land. Growing up in Brooklyn, NY I would visit community gardens which showed me that a garden was possible no matter the space or budget. Many years later the college I attended had a horticulture program. I would stroll the gardens as a way to help me get through my studies. I really should have majored in horticulture back then.

I grow food so that as a family we will always have fresh ingredients for simple recipes. I also grow food as a way to stay connected to my caribbean heritage. There is always something growing in my garden that I can use in traditional Jamaican dishes. And last but not least, I grow food as a form of therapy.

My growing space is right on the border of zone 7B/8A just outside of Atlanta, USA. My current garden is located in our side yard. It is 19 by 15 ft. I also have a 12×4 feet space in our backyard with room to expand to include a small orchard and chickens in the near future.

I grow a variety of culinary herbs year round. In the spring/summer season I grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, okra, cucumbers, squash, melons and seasonal herbs like basil. In the fall/winter, I grow the majority of my leafy greens, lettuces, brassicas, garlic and shallots. This year I added ginger to my garden for the first time as well as two tropical fruit trees I will overwinter indoors. My current small orchard includes a pear, fig and peach tree. I also have muscadine grape vines, raspberry and blueberry bushes. I do a spring and fall planting of carrots, beets and radishes as well. I keep the pollinators happy with several flowers and herbs they love.

I only use natural and organic products and practices in my garden. For my soil, I amend with food scraps, worm castings and organic fertilizer when necessary. For pest management, I take a let’s see what happens approach understanding that pests are a part of the natural order. If I deem a treatment is necessary my go to products are neem oil, diatomaceous earth and a homemade insecticidal soap.

Most of the seeds I currently use are ones I saved from previous seasons along with seeds I have been gifted from growing friends. When I do need to purchase seeds I am to stick to organic and non-gmo seeds from Botanical Interests, Baker’s Creek Heirloom Seeds and a local nursery that also does a seed swap and seed saving. This year I am supporting some garden friends like Fruition Seeds by purchasing their seed garlic and a few other items. I also save seeds to mail to friends with a hand drawn illustration of the plant or fruit.

The biggest hurdle I face when it comes to gardening has to be my own ambition and budget. There is so much I would like to do to expand my garden in order to have enough harvest to share with families in my local community. That is a major goal of mine.

My biggest rewards in gardening are definitely seeing my children excited about learning to grow their own food, caring for the plants and harvesting. I hope these lessons stay with them for life and encourage them to grow gardens of their own in the future.

Pre-Covid, I started inviting the neighborhood children to come visit my garden. With their parents’ permission, they started to learn about what plants grow well here for food as well as what plants help our pollinator population. Each child went home with a cutting ready to be planted or a small pot with seeds they started. My plan is to bring this back and expand it as it is safe to do so. I also coach new and aspiring growers across the several grow zones on starting new gardens of their own. My hope is to eliminate as many food deserts as I can one garden at a time.

Grow what you love with what you have. My garden theme is “and love grows here” because every time you plant a seed love continues to grow. And that transcends across many areas in life. From a few pots on a small budget to acres of land, every garden counts when it’s grown with love.”