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5 Star Stories: The family garden that helped Black Seeds Urban Farms grow

Published: Jun. 7, 2022 at 10:53 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Some of you may be starting to see the “fruits of your labor” from your home gardens and in this 5 Star Story about the things that make us proud to call the Mid-South home. Meet a young family whose love for gardening turned a once-blighted property into a neighborhood gem called Black Seeds Urban Farms which feeds their neighbors’ bodies and souls.

Derravia Rich’s love for gardening sprouted as a child playing with her sisters and cousins in her grandparents’ garden.

“He was the son of a farmer, so my grandfather knew a lot about planting and growing food because that’s what he did for our family,” said Derravia. “He did it when I grew up. I was raised by my grandparents; we had a garden in our backyard and so I was around this my whole life.”

In 2019, Derravia and her Memphis firefighter husband, Bobby, moved back into the family home to take care of her ailing grandmother but the garden she loved as a child had fallen into disrepair after her grandfather’s death, that is, until Bobby stepped in.

“And I picked up a hobby in the backyard, while her family members narrated, ‘Oh this is where to lay your field at.’ ‘Oh, this is where my granddaddy...,’” recalled Bobby. “And so it was, really kinda like a story being told, like an exhumation, almost. And so, in a beautiful way, I learned the old-school way and so, once I kind of started, I doubled down on gardening and kind of self-teaching myself becoming a master gardener.”

And, muck like Derravia’s grandfather, Bobby gave away much of his bounty to friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

“One day that I noticed that he was bagging it up and taking it to work,” said Derravia.

“We had so many people that wanted to be ‘Let’s go stop by the garden,’ ‘Let’s go stop by through there,’ ‘Let’s go see what they got going on’”, said Bobby. “Greens getting picked, you know, I’m looking and stuff’s coming up missing. We said, ‘You know what? We need more space!’”

Around that same time, Derravia, who works in the agricultural field, was also interested in starting a business and soon realized the idea was “growing right in front” of her.

“In 2019 after my grandmother passed away, Bobby and I really used that home garden as a therapeutic space,” she said. “And that is how the aspect of the whole comfortability thing with Black Seeds came about because our home garden really helped me in a downtime in my life.”

So in 2021, with help from the Memphis Community Redevelopment Agency, the couple found this once-blighted property in the Uptown Greenlaw neighborhood on North Fourth Street that the couple said had been abandoned for at least 30 years. But, it took a lot of work to overgrown lot ready for gardening.

“We went through a very long process of tree excavation,” said Derravia. “We had to get about 60 trees cut. The land was completely excavated. We had to do a lot to get to the -- to a blank canvas. And once we got there, it’s been on since then, Miss Kym, it really has.”

Now, certified master gardener Bobby Rich has the room to grow as much food as he can harvest, and the list is long.

“Cucumber, squash, tomatoes. Let me see I got some grapes. I also have herbs,” he said. “So, we have peppermint, spearmint, we have oregano, we have red onions, yellow onions, white onions, garlic, carrots, rainbow carrots, golden nugget carrots, sunflowers which the seeds we’re going to eat. We have watermelon, blackberries, lemon balm. We have so much stuff out here. Not just food, not just vegetables, not just fruit but, also herbs that have medicinal qualities. We make teas out here; we have lemongrass.”

And don’t forget about the half dozen or so fruit trees, as well.

Black Seeds is truly a family affair now that the couple’s daughter Khoi has the gardening bug. She showed our crew around her strawberry patch, proudly picking the beautiful red and ripe multiple fruits. But, this gardening space is about more than the Rich family’s love for growing food.

“As you know, many neighborhoods throughout Memphis just don’t have grocery stores and the Greenlaw community is one of many under-served communities. And so, we wanted to provide an organic food resource for people who just don’t have access to it,” explained Derravia. “We give it to our Greenlaw community members for free and we are very close to all of our neighbors that are right here in our proximity so they know they will call me, they will call Bobby and say, ‘Hey are those tomatoes ready? Is the squash ready? Can I come get some greens?’”

Bobby believes small community farms and/or home gardens like Black Seeds can also change how food reaches everyone’s tables.

“So, we can really redraw the whole way that we’re sending off food and the whole way that we’re delivering food and giving food to the people that deserve it and need it the most,” said Bobby. “If you grow food locally and it has a high nutritional integrity right?”

Black Seeds is also a community gathering space.

“This garden has been used for many different reasons. From birthday parties, to yoga classes, to concerts. We also do private picnics but our garden is booked by appointment,” said Derravia, adding that several weddings have also been scheduled for the space.

And, if nothing else, Black Seeds Urban Farms continues to cultivate family and traditions handed down from generation to generation.

“Well for my family, I think it showed me that there is a deeper reasoning behind why me and my wife met,” said Bobby. “It’s not just a courtship -- me finding my purpose through gardening and horticulture/agriculture through her family. That’s it’s beyond coincidental and it’s just one of those things that you just sit back and you can tell that the story’s just kind of writing itself. It’s humbling; it’s a lot of introspection all that from the garden.”

And now, they’d like to share their story, food and happy place with you.

Bobby said he’d love to see a Black Seeds Urban Farm, or something like it, in every neighborhood to make healthy food more readily available to more people. In addition to outdoor events, Black Seeds also offers free educational programs and hands-on workshops.

If you would like to book an outdoor event at Black Seeds Urban Farms, or get some of their produce for your own Memphis household, send an email to: blackseeds2020@gmail.com.

To keep up with future events, follow them on Instagram @blackseedsurbanfarms.

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