Farmer, Activist & Entrepreneur at Ivy Leaf Farms
I’m excited to invite you to my conversation with Ivy Walls. Ivy is a farmer, food justice activist an entrepreneur based in the Sunnyside community of Houston, Texas. Before farming, Ivy worked as an epidemiologist for the CDC and later became an infection prevention specialist at a hospital in Houston. In the early days of the pandemic Ivy worked closely with COVID-19 patients.
The pandemic laid bare many disparities in our society and Ivy witnessed these firsthand as a frontline worker. She saw the correlation of income level, diet related pre-existing conditions and food security to infection rates and Covid complications. She realized that her Sunnyside community only had fast food options and that people had to drive to other neighborhoods in order to buy fresh produce. She wanted to figure out a way to bring healthy, affordable, local produce to her neighbors.
Working in healthcare during such an intense, scary and heartbreaking time, Ivy faced major burnout. She began questioning her path and purpose in life. She knew she wanted to use her skills to benefit others, but she yearned to be outside, roll up her sleeves, get her hands dirty and build something on her own. She tuned into herself and made the decision to start growing food for her community.
Ivy has been an avid grower since she was a child. She grew up on her family's farm, located just outside of Sunnyside and spent a lot of her free time collecting eggs, growing food and raising animals. She jokes that her first pet was a horse (which is actually true), so she was familiar with the joys and trials of work in the outdoors. Ivy saved up some start up money, quit her job, and got to work planting crops on her family's land. As a sign that she was undeniably on the right path, the day after she quit her job, Ivy got the call that she received a $10,000 grant from Beyoncé's charitable foundation to help with upfront costs extending her growing fields and building a greenhouse. And so began Ivy Leaf Farms.
“My advice would be to think about when the last time was that you were purely absolutely happy. Think about all the skills that you’ve gained since that moment to actually live and breathe in that purpose. When you find your purpose, it’s not a hard feeling. It is somewhere where you just stand and allow everything to flow through you. Think back to those moments of pure happiness, pure love… that is where you’re supposed to be.”
Ivy’s farm now grows chemical-free produce, hosts educational events, and offers a CSA to the neighborhood. Ivy is working on expanding her grow operations, facilitating climate-change resistant growing practices, and providing educational programs and resources on the farm. Ivy has found that climate change and uncertainty has been the biggest challenge for her as a farmer – and unpredictable floods and other weather events has shortened her growing season, and caused her to seek other types of income streams to earn a living.
In addition to farming, Ivy entrepreneurial efforts have launched Ivy Leaf Seed Co., a line of non-GMO organic seeds. She also started Green House Shop - offering clothing, accessories and a line of durable outdoor clothing for people working outside. In addition, Ivy and her collaborators are in the final stages of opening a community run grocery store in Sunnyside, so that the community can have year round access to fresh produce options.
Ivy's advice for anyone wanting to grow food for their community is to think outside of the box when it comes to making their farm business sustainable. It is really difficult to build a farm based solely on the income from the produce sold, especially with the yearly infrastructure improvements and start-up costs required. Ivy encourages people to get creative - create value added products, host events, teach workshops, etc.
On the podcast, Ivy speaks about feeling a sense of peace she felt once she began farming. She noticed that while she was on the right path, things started to fall into place. She believes that connecting with your mission and purpose means connecting with what brings you into flow.
If you work in any pursuit that involves community action or helping others – Ivy stresses that you need to recognize that you can’t fix the world on your own. Setting boundaries, taking care of your own needs first, and staying focused in your own area of expertise - these actions will help you live a more balanced life, and be more effective in your work, and help you avoid burnout.
While Ivy misses the camaraderie of her hospital environment, she sees her work in farming as another form of healthcare; one where she can be more closely rooted with her family, community, and the earth. She has found true joy and fulfillment from connecting with others, getting her hands dirty and sharing her gifts with those around her.
This is a story about about community action, being the change you wish to see, and the power of plants to heal and connect.