Jay Hill (She/They)

Jay has been farming for 3 years and during that time she has incubated her own farm on the properties of people she has gardened and farmed for.

I’m a full-time social worker.

Part-time I’m starting my small farm, Earth Keepers.

It’s my first year attempting at growing and selling for farmers’ markets. I’ve been learning as much as I can and working on other people’s property to get my start.

I’m trying to transition out of the social work career. My hope is that I can do farming full-time.

Social work was my call at one point, but it has become a profession that is doing more harm in our communities, especially to communities of color. I’m trying not to contribute to that harm.

I’m trying to follow what brings me joy and farming is that for me. 

I’m going on roughly 3 years of farming.

The first two years I was mostly gardening at other people’s properties helping them maintain what they had going on and trying to get a better understanding of how to farm, how to garden better. I’m learning as I go now, but I learned from a lot of farmers who let me use their space. 

In grad school, I worked on the community garden there.

The professor operating that space gave me my foundation in terms of germinating seeds, best things to grow in this zone, and after that it was me experimenting and trying different things.

I’ve learned from other people as well, but it’s also intuitive.

There are about 6 generations of farmers in my family, they were either homesteaders, farming tobacco or livestock, so some of it comes naturally to me.

It’s been carried down to me. Learning more about my identity is part of what brought me to farming.

I always wondered where my family origins came from- my African roots.

I would always bug my grandmother to tell me.

She would share stories of when she was younger and say, “I was raised on a homestead and we had to pump our water and get eggs from the chicken coop”. I never had to grow up with that experience of getting eggs or picking vegetables for dinner.

I come from a line of farmers.

That is something to be proud of.

They knew how to grow their own food and take care of themselves. And it’s a part of my identity that I want to know more about.

It brings me closer to my ancestors. 

When I was an undergrad, I went to UNC Pembroke home to the Lumbee Nation. When I was at that campus, I was afforded the opportunity to work with our on-campus food pantry serving community members, students, and staff.

That was my eye opener to food injustice – it was shocking to see classmates and professors coming in because they didn’t know when their next meal was coming from.

I learned about CSAs. We had the opportunity to start one on campus so people could have fresh food. I wanted to be more involved in things like this.

That kind of sparked it for me.

Fast forward to after I graduated, I lived in this intentional community for about a year. It was the best choice yet worst experience I’ve ever had, but every time we came together to make food, it was a sacred practice:

We were mindful of the food we were eating, we took time to cook together and prepare meals and we would pray over the meals and would always say thank you to farm workers who helped grow the food.

It became more of a spiritual practice for me in understanding my relationship to food.

Food is a much bigger thing than we realize.

When I garden, it’s like my refuge. I come alive when I’m gardening.

I feel my most zen and at peace.

I feel like I have a purpose when I’m gardening.

I feel so connected to Earth when I’m in nature.

Farming has been a safe haven for me. When I started getting into gardening, it was really a space for me to recover my mental health.

To put my hands in the dirt and be in connection to plants has been a sacred experience. It has really saved my life. I love it.  

When I first started Earth Keepers, I had a business partner.

The goal was to start this farm that was geared towards supporting people of color, teaching them how to grow their own food.

She came from a family of migrant workers.

We didn’t have access to land, but we figured we could make it worth it with the resources we had.

We met with people in the community that had access to land already and we would help garden and maintain their space, they could support our goals while we supported their goals.

It was an opportunity for us to make mistakes and learn.

We ended up working with these two other individuals that had been afforded a space – over 150 acres. They were just there to be land stewards and help the owners of the space. They wanted to combine forces with us and use the space they had there. Along the way I noticed power dynamics. In the end, we realized that it wasn’t going to work.

We romanticize the idea of community, but I’m learning it requires lots of effort to make it work. My advice to other folks interested in farming on land not theirs is to make sure the folks you partner with align with your goals and values.

We had a lot of the same ideals, but we were going at them in a different way in terms of values – it’s so important to make sure that not only are your ideals in alignment, but the way you go about it is aligned too.

Currently I don’t own any land.

Earlier this year I was lended space at a local community garden and had reconnected with a community member who had access to a greenhouse out in the country (about a 30 min commute from my home) so I used that space to start my seedlings.

However, I’ve essentially lost most of my growing space.

The land at the community garden is being sold. And I’m not sure how much longer I’ll have access to the greenhouse.

I am learning how to build better business relationships. That was a rookie mistake on my part – this is my first time getting into partnerships like this.

My advice to others is to sit down in the beginning and hash out those hard conversations. Talk about those expectations and goals. Write out a contract  – include the length of time you want to use the space, the partnership agreements.

Don’t just talk it out like I did. That was my mistake – not laying those expectations out or writing them down.

When I think of what Earth Keepers is going to look like, In my mind I think: “community,” but the more I work within “community”, it doesn’t seem to be working out for me.

I’m at a standstill right now.

I don’t want to do it alone. I just haven’t found my community yet.

When I think of farming, I think of farming as a relationship to the land, but also to the people that surround that land. I feel like farming is a community type of a venture. I’ve seen people do it by themselves, but they either burn out or age out and there is nobody to take over the farm.

It’s a community practice where we help each other out.

I could do it alone if I wanted to, but I don’t see the joy in that.

My joy comes from witnessing where our food comes from and sharing it with others.

What I see for Earth Keepers is a co-op model, a people led type of farm.

The mission of Earth Keepers is for us to be good stewards to mother earth.

The overall arching goal is really to educate my people–Black people–where their food comes from and helping them to understand how to harvest and prep their food.

I see it as a space where we can lean on one another, but also empower one another.

It gives us a lot of power to grow our own food especially in our climate where shelves are empty and it’s scaring a lot of people.

You don’t have to be afraid.

We can take that power back.