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Katrina Harvey of Soul Botanical Farms: The healing power of plants

Owner of Soul Botanical Farms in Mulberry, Florida

I’m excited to invite you to my conversation with Katrina Harvey, the passionate driving force behind of Soul Botanical Farms in Mulberry, Florida. Katrina became interested in plants after the devastating loss of her father and only sister. Following their deaths Katrina became overwhelmed by depression and anxiety. She realized that she just existed and wasn't leading a happy or fulfilling life. She went to work, came home, and went to bed - there was nothing feeding her soul. Katrina's coworker began bringing her plants and plant books as a way to connect with her. These kind gestures were the spark that started Katrina on her journey towards her life's purpose. Each plant Katrina brought home, the better she felt. She started planting flowers in her yard and then began planting her own food. It was the therapy she needed - healing mind, body and soul. Her anxiety and depression went away, she went vegetarian, and her overall health and outlook improved significantly. Spending time convening, conversing and working with plants was the medicine she needed to heal herself and find joy and passion in life again. What started as a hobby has evolved into her life’s purpose and now she is working towards building the only black-owned farm and plant nursery in her area.

Katrina’s story illustrates that no matter the difficulties that life throws at you it is never too late to start over and find your peace and calling in life. Say yes to new experiences, get your hands dirty, and don’t give up on finding something that feeds your soul. I encourage you to contribute to Katrina’s capital campaign to get the infrastructure set up for Soul Botanical Farms.

To contribute please visit her GOFUNDME


How did your passion for growing emerge?

I was exposed to farming and gardening at a very young age. My mother's father's family had a tobacco farm in Live Oak, Florida. I've never visited it though. I'm 46 years old and I still haven't seen the property my family farmed. However, my grandmother's father had a chicken farm where he sold eggs and a massive garden in the backyard where he sold fresh fruits and vegetables to his community. My passion for growing didn't come until later in life. After the loss of my father and my only sibling, my elder sister, I started connecting with plants as a means of healing. From there I began a landscape garden and then I started vegetable gardening. I have been edible gardening for almost three years now.

Tell us about your journey of transforming your suburban yard - how did you get started and how has your yard has evolved over time to become a beautiful food growing haven?

This is my second home in the past two years. I sold my first home because I wanted to downsize. I felt like I was wasting money on a four-bedroom home, when it's just me and my son. I figured I could downsize and the extra money I was paying towards the mortgage I could save to one day to be able to have my own acreage. Even though I downsized, I still needed to garden as part of my therapy and healing process. Once I purchase my new home I began planting. I had no idea how I wanted to landscape, I just knew that I wanted a garden and I wanted it to be efficient and cute. So I just began and now today in less than 8 months my entire backyard is an edible food forest.

What do you think are the main obstacles standing in the way for gardeners just starting out? Do you have any advice for someone who wants to start their first garden, and doesn’t know where to begin?

I think the main obstacles for gardeners is following so many different gardeners who do not live in the same climate. When I started gardening that's what I did. I was trying to grow plants that really don't work in my climate and I was planting these crops at the wrong time of year. It was stressful. Another thing is a lot of gardeners really don't take the time to research things. It's best to do your research and learn through trial and error. Anyone can tell you anything but successes and failures all depend on you taking the initiative to learn and try as you grow.

When did you start seed saving? Do you have plans to expand your seed selling Etsy store in future?

I started seed saving a year ago and it started with cayenne peppers because I had grew over 30 plants and then in the fall I started seed saving a lot of the stuff that I was growing in my garden at the time. I started dreaming about collecting and selling seeds from what I'm growing in my garden. I have plans to expand my Etsy shop -- adding tinctures, salves, tea blends, and live plants from my plant nursery.

What do you think the additional benefits are from growing your own food, aside from just eating fresh produce?

From me the additional benefits are being able to watch something develop from nothing. The landscape being bare, then amending the soil and then sowing the seeds. It teaches me patience. Each day the gratification grows and that anticipation of what may happen from something that you started from nothing. Each day I walk out in the garden there's something different and new -- that's what is so exciting about gardening.

Are there any crops, varieties, etc. that you specifically love to work with?

My favorite crops are brassicas. Unfortunately I can't grow them year-round like some people can in mild climates. When the fall and winter time comes, I overdo it. I think my son and I planted over a hundred bok choy last fall and winter because they're so easy to grow.

What are the best crops you recommend for new growers to try out, especially for those with limited space?

It depends on the year. I recommend peppers to people because that is the first plant I started with. I think I planted 50 peppers last year and I had no issues. Or try something that's fast growing like radishes.

Do you have any clever hacks, repurpose material ideas, etc. for new gardeners out there? I am always looking to repurpose items for the garden. When I first started gardening I would constantly be looking on the side of the roads for anything that people threw away that I could repurpose. I built a two-tier planter from these crates that I found on the side of the road. I also created a vertical planter with old pallets (I probably won't do that again because I just didn't like the way the water flowed through the the pallets). I repurposed a daybed and footboard for climbing plants. I built a bench trellis from old closet shelving thrown on the side of the road. I recommend people get creative. My eyes are always on the lookout for things I can use this in the garden. A joy of gardening is that you don't have to follow rules -- you can get creative with it.

What were the easiest crops for you to get started with in your Florida growing zone 9b and what have you found to be the most challenging to grow in your area?

The easiest crops to grow it depend on the year. We have a long growing season and can grow 365 days of the year. In summer sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, and okra are the easiest to grow. In the fall you can grow tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, all of your leafy greens, and so much more. It is a matter of understanding your seasons, because a lot of people in my zone will message me saying they're struggling with tomatoes or cucumbers in the summer - which you really can't grow then. The summer we are very limited because of the humidity, heat, and rainy season. I'd recommend going to the University of Florida web page because they provide extensive information on what can be grown and when. In the summer I focus on growing flowers and raising butterflies because it isn't easy to grow anything else.

What are you currently working on and what are your plans for the future?

I currently have an ID and a GoFundMe account because I am currently working on building a plant nursery in Mulberry. It would be the first ever black on plant nursery in my community. I'm also currently working on a book called Roots of Abandonment, because gardening has helped me get over childhood abandonment issues and understand who I am as an adult. I have been debating in my head if I want to do a podcast called Conversations with Soul, but I'm trying to fit it in between the 100 ideas that I already am working on. The podcast would discuss different topics that have to do with gardening and encouraging others to garden as well.

How have your friends and neighbors reacted to your garden transformation?

My closest friend and I go on bike rides, identify plants and get cuttings of plants. Together we're just enabling one another to buy more plants. I have also found new friends that live in my community who are into gardening and have the same passion for growing. When I moved into my new community and I started planting I had so many neighbors come over to tell me how beautiful the garden was and how happy they are that I moved in. One of my neighbors said he wants to bring his sister-in-law over to look at the garden. Everyone is really inspired and they say nice words to me. It's good to know that people are paying attention and I notice a lot of my neighbors have started putting plants in their yard too. I've had some come asking me advice on plants -- people are inspired to garden when they see others doing it. We can use more plants in the world.

How have you been coping through this very difficult and scary time?

I have been coping by not coping. I know it's weird but I've been coping by working in the garden daily. One day I started with nothing and then the next day I look up like "did this really happen?" All of the garden progress happened during Covid. I garden 10 days straight and then I'm in the office for 3 days. It makes it a lot easier when I'm working from home because I can get up early to hours of daylight and work before I clock in. When I'm home I can go out on my breaks, during lunch and I'm already home when I clock out, so all I have to do is just walk out the door and put in a lot of work in the garden. Gardening has helped me get through this time.

Do you feel hopeful that this virus and these protests will manifest a great awakening in our country or do you think things will continue on without change?

This interview was sent a while back so probably at that time I would have said yes, but I'm not sure now. Some people still treat this virus like it doesn't exist and the protests were overshadowed by lies about rioting and looting because outside agitators showed up. A reason why I wanted to start my initiative was because it seems like whenever we try to voice our concerns somebody comes in and tries to have a louder voice in to take away the message of what we're trying to get across (and when I say "we" I mean people of color). So, although the protests needed to happen, it always end up with those on the other side showing up, causes problems and making those who are asking for change look bad. I want to try to inspire change in a different way.

Are there other ways in which you practice self-sufficiency? Has growing a prolific garden helped you gain more confidence when it comes to being more self-sufficient? For me I've started drying my own herbs, freezing my peas and leafy greens, and I'm working on setting up rain barrels because I don't want to be dependent on watering my garden in from my tap, This pandemic has pushed me to be more self-sufficient.

What are your plans/goals for the future with @soulgardener74 and your garden?

My plans and goals is to be able to open up the first black-owned plant nursery within my community that provides pollinator flowers, vegetables, edible plants and many things that are grown in my garden. I want to help feed the people within my community. It is very important that children are exposed to plants and understand where their food comes from. As a child I grew up where I have opportunities to sleep in the woods and be out in nature a lot and it helped shape my life is an adult. A lot of children in these urban communities will never get to have that connection with nature. When I tell people I raise butterflies, they tell me they've never seen a butterfly in their community. The reason why the butterflies aren't there is the landscaping does not support an ecosystem that attracts butterflies. My vision is to change the landscape of the urban communities -- they deserve pollinator plants, fruit trees, and edible vegetables growing in their community. People who live in the city should not have to leave their community to buy healthy food or to see beautiful landscaping. My vision is to be able to provide free landscaping to the elderly, sick, and single family homes with children.

Thank you Katrina for sharing your story with us!

You can follow Katrina on Instagram @soulgardener74


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