Welcome to Vibe Check, Unbothered’s wellness column aimed at revolutionizing how Black folx think about self-care, because “self-care” is not always synonymous with Black existence. A safe space for us to share our experiences, Vibe Check explores how Black people are reclaiming their time and wellness, reconnecting with their power, and fostering balance and healing in their day-to-day lives.
“‘I don’t know what any of this shit is, but don’t let anything die.’” Farmer and florist Mimo Davis still laughs at the memory of her mother’s directive when she arrived at her home in Jefferson, Missouri, one day in 1989. The “shit” in question was a lean-to greenhouse bursting with unidentifiable plants and 132 roses planted in the front yard, courtesy of Davis’ stepfather, who’d gifted it all to her mother when they got married. The two were off on their honeymoon, and Davis, who was 31 at the time, had been tasked with watching over the house and keeping the yard alive.
Except Davis, who was raised in Detroit and living in Manhattan back then, didn’t know anything about gardening, either. So while the newlyweds were gone, she snipped off a piece of each plant and drove to nearby nurseries to learn their names and how to care for them, then compiled the information into a booklet and presented it to her mother as a wedding present when she returned. That weeklong project changed the entire trajectory of her life.
“I completely fell in love with agriculture,” says Davis, who is now the co-owner of Urban Buds, a flower farm and floral retailer in St. Louis. “It was my therapy, my refuge.”
People of African descent have inherited a relationship with the land that is as rife with the profound intimacy of ancestral knowledge as it has been with traumatic collective memory of fracture and enslavement. To work with the earth as a Black farmer or florist is to engage simultaneously in the practices of survival and healing, and also to shepherd their communities into a place of wellness that empowers them to feel entitled to natural beauty.
Davis’ maternal grandparents were peanut farmers in Arkansas, but she was a social worker when she discovered her passion for agriculture. She loved her job, but then the AIDS epidemic hit and she found herself assuming the role of funeral director, laying to rest many of the young men she’d known and cared for. Working in her mother’s garden, she tells Unbothered, offered her the serenity and beauty she desperately sought during that difficult period in her life.
Within two months of her horticultural revelation, Davis had traded in her doorman apartment in Union Square for a 15-acre farm in Ashland, Missouri, setting in motion a farming career that has since included a masters degree in plant science from North Carolina A&T University, several grants from the Missouri Department of Agriculture, and a role as the vice president of the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers.
I really think Black women are in a place right now where we’re watering ourselves.
Despite Black people’s history with the land, farming is an increasingly endangered profession in the United States. According to a National Agricultural Statistics Service Census report from 2017 (the most recent year that data was recorded), there were 48,697 Black farmers in the country, comprising just 1.4% of the total number of producers. The report notes that Black farmers tended to own less land than their non-Black counterparts, and that their agricultural sales accounted for less than 1% of the national total.
Davis runs Urban Buds with her business partner and former wife, Miranda Duschack. At 64, Davis no longer does the bulk of the gardening the way she used to on her old farm, but she still decides the planting program, places orders for seeds, works with local florists, runs the Urban Buds farmers market stall and social media page, and manages the farm’s sales. The flower farm also participates in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and hosts seasonal tours for members to learn about and feel more connected to their weekly floral deliveries.
Davis and Duschack have hired a small team of gardeners and work with volunteers for most of the planting and harvesting, but Davis still reserves some of that work — namely, the sweet peas and hellebores flowers — to care for herself. She’s been grinding as a small business owner for the past three decades, but Davis can’t imagine doing anything else. Her flowers have seen her customers through every milestone, from birth and musical recitals and marriage to acts of terrorism, a global pandemic, and death.
“I learned during 9/11, when all the planes stopped flying from Ecuador [a major global flower supplier] and people still had weddings and events, that flowers would withstand the test of any type of disaster,” she says.
At 32 years old, Jasmine Griffin-Baum’s foray into the floral industry is much more nascent than Davis’, but the San Antonio native’s roots in the earth run deep on both sides of her family. Her maternal grandmother grew beans, okra, corn, and tomatoes from her garden in Georgia, and her father’s family still owns their farm in Texas. Griffin moved to New York for what was ultimately a short-lived career in fashion, then pivoted to teaching math and science for five years until, she says, she could “no longer physically or mentally survive being in that setting.”
The stresses of teaching and taking care of students, coupled with minimal institutional support, chipped away at Griffin-Baum’s spirit and eventually gave way to depression, anxiety, and difficulties sleeping and eating. She went on leave last summer to rest and reevaluate. Her therapist asked her what her ideal day at work would look like, and Griffin-Baum’s answer was flowers. “Nothing felt as natural as working with the earth,” she says. “Flowers saved my life. I wouldn’t be here had I not made this change.”
Griffin-Baum wasted no time cobbling together a portfolio on Canva and reaching out to her network for more experience. Like Davis, Griffin-Baum went into business with her life partner and husband Evan to establish their Kinda Formal creative studio. Black women in particular flock to the pop-up floral design events she hosts around Brooklyn, and she does freelance and apprentice work with August Sage and Violet, a high-end wedding floral boutique.
“I learned during 9/11, when all the planes stopped flying from Ecuador [a major global flower supplier] and people still had weddings and events, that flowers would withstand the test of any type of disaster.
Black women have been working the earth for centuries, but recently have been engaging in flower farming, gardening, and floral design — and congregating around those practices — in more intentional and visible ways. In the wake of global protests following the brutal murder of George Floyd by Minnestota police officers, Valerie Crisostomo created Black Girl Florists, a directory-turned-organizational network for Black women working in flowers. In March, Black Girl Florists became the first all-Black women team to install a floral exhibition at the Philadelphia Flower Show in its 194-year existence, and hosted its second annual conference in Atlanta earlier this month, which featured three days of design sessions, networking, panel discussions, and instructional presentations on retail, installation, and planning events.
Crisostomo’s primary aim in creating Black Girl Florists was to deconstruct the illusion of scarcity that can prevent Black women in the floral industry from sharing their skills with each other. After they established that, she says, “then we feel comfortable sharing our talent and not gatekeeping.”
Neither Davis nor Griffin-Baum believe there’s been a renewed interest in flowers or floral design in recent years, but they have each sensed a shift in society’s willingness to embrace a certain kind of wellness driven by the aesthetics of simplicity in the face of challenges. Griffin-Baum admitted she could turn anything into a floral analogy, and could not overlook the parallels she sees between gardening and Black women’s self-care, and the ways that has included cultivating a relationship with nature.
“I really think Black women are in a place right now where we’re watering ourselves,” she said. “We’re pruning and taking care of ourselves in a way that everyone has to take notice of because we’re so serious about it.”
Davis pointed out that Urban Buds’ floral delivery service boomed during the pandemic, and recognized that people react to moments of despair by seeking beauty.
“The worse things get, the more beauty they want, because it’s calming,” she said. “Flowers are interactive, but in a very subtle way. They don’t talk, but flowers move. They grow in a vase. The buds open. The beauty, the calmness that comes with it, the expressiveness of it. People are in need of that.”
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