Serotonin And The Garden Of Good Eating

The day I joined my community garden marked not just the beginning of my healing, but also the start of my family’s suburban homesteading journey.


Published:

Shanna B. Tiayon waters the vegetables in her family’s garden in a Washington, D.C., suburb.

Photo from Shanna B. Tiayon

On a crisp March 2015 day, in a D.C. suburb, my family and I stood in a fenced-in community garden, nestled behind a church, looking at a grassy, weeded over, 10-foot-by-20-foot rectangular plot, daring us to tame it. The overcast sky hung over us, and our shoes grew damp from the dewy grass. “What are we supposed to do with this?”

Garden tool in hand, Tiayon prepares to plant new vegetables in her family garden. Photo from Shanna B. Tiayon.This was not what I imagined when I signed up at my friend’s suggestion to join a community garden. I envisioned rich dark soil, in neatly arranged rows, waiting for us to sow vegetable seeds and water them with cute silver watering cans.

But we dug in, and that day marked not just the beginning of my healing, but also the start of my family’s suburban homesteading journey.

Contemporary versions of homesteading have maintained a focus on self-sufficiency, sustainability, and independence. The practice dates back to the Homestead Act of 1862 and today can involve one or more of the following practices: small-scale gardening or animal husbandry, home preservation of food, a focus on conservation of resources, or a general DIY approach to commodities.

It’s a mindset about how you want to live in the world and the values you use to shape those choices. While homesteading is typically associated with rural areas, you can homestead wherever you call home—in the suburbs or in the city.

I am your most unlikely homesteader—an African American woman who has been resisting agriculture most of her life, in part because of the link between agriculture and dirt. I was raised to believe that dirt should be avoided. Cleanliness made you respectable; dirtiness did not.

Yet, the universe kept trying to make a farmer out of me. In 1997, the Biological and Agricultural Systems Engineering program at Florida A&M University offered me a scholarship. Then in 2001, I joined the Peace Corps. I was selected for an agroforestry program in Cameroon. Shortly after my training, I promptly abandoned my agricultural activities in favor of a girls’ empowerment project.

Tiayon family members look over an untamed patch of land they eventually concerted into a family garden. Photo from Shanna B. Tiayon.My earlier aversion to agriculture is not uncommon. Black people’s relationship with the land has a complex history. While the connection between slavery and agriculture is what’s talked about most today, after slavery, Blacks did try to reshape their relationship with agriculture. During Reconstruction, a majority of Black people continued to farm. But many found themselves in exploitive sharecropping arrangements.

In 1920, 925,708 Black farmers were in the U.S. However, the increased mechanization of farming combined with discrimination, this time from USDA agencies, continued to make farming while Black increasingly difficult. By 2012, only 44,629 Black farmers were left, representing 1.4 percent of all U.S. farmers.

Blacks had been forced off the land, and here I was returning to it.

Family members prepare vegetable beds. Photo from Shanna B. Tiayon.By the time I stuck the shovel into that weedy community garden in the spring of 2015, I was finishing up the fourth year of my doctoral program in sociology at the University of Maryland. I was in my early 30s, married with three kids. Juggling my academic, professional, and personal life was taking a toll. I felt physically and mentally exhausted.

Around this time, a friend suggested joining a community garden. For someone who had been resisting the soil her whole life, I found myself, at this low point in my life, drawn to the idea of community gardening. I felt like I needed to try something radical. If insanity is doing things the same way and expecting a different outcome, I figured this was certain to shake things up.

To transform our intractable plot into the garden of my vision, my family and I worked tirelessly to remove stubborn weeds, add organic matter to enrich the soil and build high mounds for cultivating—similar to the ones I’d seen in Cameroon.

During that first year, I found myself escaping to the garden in the early mornings to bask in the lushness of our progress and bury my hands into the earth. Going to the garden felt like church—a place for my spirit to be renewed. And in those early morning garden revivals, I found community in the other gardeners.

The garden was literally healing me. The low to mild depression I had been cycling in and out of started to break, and I felt lighter, happier, and more self-accepting. I felt more relaxed. These positive feelings allowed me to release myself from the prison of my own expectations and cut the cord to things I was continuing to invest in that no longer brought me joy.

Science confirms what I was feeling. Research shows a link between coming in contact with microbiomes in the soil and increased levels of serotonin, the feel-good neurotransmitter. The same soil that makes gardening possible can lower our stress and depression.The vegetable garden. Photo by Shanna B. Tiayon.

Inspired, my husband, children and I added another community plot and built several at our residence. Combined, we cultivate about 700 square feet of land where we grow a mix of fully organic warm and cool weather vegetables and some fruits from April to December—ginger, corn, okra, herbs, kale, sweet potatoes and white potatoes, strawberries, along with other varieties. We preserve food from our garden using dehydration, canning and vacuum-sealing.

Our involvement with the garden inspired us to want to live more sustainably. Over the course of the next several years, we made incremental changes to our lifestyle. Influenced by the book Zero Waste Home, we decreased the amount of waste we produced. We began making our own cloth napkins and rejected plastic grocery bags in favor of reusable ones. To conserve water, we started collecting shower water while it warmed to recycle for other purposes. Eventually, we even started making our own cleaning products. We transformed food and yard waste into compost, which helped to improve our soil.

The first harvest. Photo by Shanna B. Tiayon.At first glance, our life looks like anybody else’s. We live in a middle class neighborhood complete with an HOA. After closer inspection, you may notice little things that differ about our lives, like the flowerbed in our front yard that contains broccoli and sweet pepper plants instead of mums. Or the massive collection of coffee grounds in our garage to add nitrogen and organic matter to the soil.

This summer we started to share our suburban homesteading journey on Instagram, @black_suburban_homestead, to increase the racial diversity of the public homesteading space and hopefully inspire others to start their own. Excited to connect with other homesteaders, I did a quick search. Of the more than 500,000 pages it returned, only a handful included people who looked like me. Black homesteaders, like Black farmers, are rare, too.

Black people didn’t just leave the land because of the atrocities of slavery. They were forced out. What remained in the Black psyche was a disconnection, the idea that dirt was bad and not respectable. My ancestors fought to stay on the land, and I spent most of my life fighting not to return to it. But once I stopped resisting, a new world opened up for me.

Shanna B. Tiayon wrote this article for YES! Magazine. When Shanna isn’t homesteading or writing, she’s working in the area of well-being, providing custom trainings, tools, and services for individual and corporate clients.

This article was republished from YES! Magazine.

See also:
Here Are 17 Food Heroes Leading Us To A Brighter Food Future
After A Century In Decline, Black Farmers Are Back And On The Rise 

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

June 18, 2019

An early morning sextile between Saturn and Neptune suggests there is timeless wisdom to be had in dreams. Some folks wake up feeling as though they have been schooled in ancient wisdom while sleeping. Others feel empowered to go after a cherished goal…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

June 2019

Sunday Reiki treatments with Reiki master and practitioner Linda Simons in Brookline, MA. Start your week off on a more balanced note with a Reiki treatment on a Sunday afternoon. Please join me...

Cost: Sliding Scale $25-45

Where:
233 Harvard Street
Suite 36
Brookline, MA  02446
View map »


Telephone: 617-304-2205
Contact Name: Linda Simons
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

In celebration of the summer freshness, vitality and joyfulness, this is a spring pamper yourself DIY strawberry body care flower project that you will go home with. Time permitting you may go...

Cost: Pre-reg $35, $40 at the door, materials included

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Sute #A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join us for an exclusive workshop and wine tasting. This event is free! Attorney Lisa Cukier, partner at Burns & Levinson, will lead an informative workshop on divorce impacted by...

Cost: Free

Where:
Total Wine & More
321 Speen Street
Apt 802
Natick, MA  01760
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Part 1 - Animal Communication Tue 6/18 (10-6pm) and Wed, 6/19 (10-1 pm)  Fri, 6/21 *Optional morning off-site visit w/live animals  Learn how to communicate with your...

Cost: $540

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

Are you going through a divorce, contemplating divorce, or recovering from divorce? Come to our Divorce Boot Camp, and we’ll help you get into shape! Join us and learn about the finer...

Cost: Free

Where:
Leading Edge Real Estate
2 Mount Vernon Street
Winchester, MA  01890
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

Are you separated, divorced, or in the process of divorce? Whatever stage you are in…just considering divorce or many years post divorce… our Divorce Resource Nights have...

Cost: Free

Where:
Skylark Law & Mediation, PC
9 Main Street
Southborough, MA  01772
View map »


Sponsor: Vesta: Redefining Divorce
Telephone: 508-744-6014
Contact Name: Deanna Coyle
Website »

More information

June 20–23 For more info, please contact us at 336.574.1121 or aptaoffices@polaritytherapy.org www.polaritytherapy.org Keynote Speaker: Christina L. Ross, PhD, BCPP Wake Forest...

Where:
Hilton Long Island/Huntington
Melville, NY


Sponsor: American Polarity Therapy Association
Website »

More information

This development group is for students of mediumship looking to enhance, expand and practice their mediumship abilities. Traditional and progressive mediumship development techniques, topics and...

Cost: $25 per person

Where:
Moth and Moon Studio
173 South River Road
Suite #4
Bedford, NH  03110
View map »


Sponsor: Moth and Moon Studio
Telephone: 603-782-3674
Contact Name: Danielle Dionne
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

June 21–23 Medical Qi Gong for Health Care Practitioners and Tuina Treatment Strategies for Cervical Spine and Lumbar Spine with Bill Helm Join us Friday–Sunday, June...

Cost: See details

Where:
Roots and Wings Yoga and Healing Arts
317 North Main Street
Natick, MA  01760
View map »


Sponsor: Eastern Medicinal Therapies Education Center
Telephone: (617) 435-3586
Contact Name: Lauren Paap
Website »

More information

Networking / Supervision / Support  We are a varied group of holistic practitioners in metro-west Boston and we welcome new practitioner-members. We invite any local practitioner,...

Where:
Lincoln, MA


Telephone: 781-738-1920
Contact Name: Jai Kaur Annamaria

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Saturday and Sunday, June 22nd & 23rd plus Saturday, July 27th A path to reconnecting with your true self and expressing your full human potential. Summer 2019 Reiki...

Cost: $450

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road, Suite B2
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

At Elemental Energies with Chris Ann and Jeff Come see a wide collection of psychics, artists, healers, etc. from all over New England. Come buy tickets at the large raffle table. 100% of the...

Cost: ​Free admission

Where:
27 N. Berwick Road
Wells, ME
View map »


Telephone: (207) 641-5070
Website »

More information

Explore Your Psychic Awareness In This Fun And Informative Workshop Designed specifically for people who are awakening to their own psychic senses, this class will provide you with personalized,...

Cost: $125

Where:
The Mills at Salmon Falls
3 Front Street
Lower Mill
Rollinsford, NH  03869
View map »


Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
Contact Name: Raylene Sousa
Website »

More information

Celebrate the longest day of daylight and the summer season with us! Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the summer celebration in our sanctuary! A great way to really dig in a get fully...

Cost: Special 3-15 min services $60 or 1-15 min service $25

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Sute #A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags