Meet Your Farmers

By Stefin Pasternak / Photography By Matthew Noel | January 28, 2016
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Amber Dawn & Kweku Nyaawie of Hollygrove


“Some people just see her name on the website and say, ‘I wanna garden with her!” says fellow mentor gardener Kweku Nyaawie, “and who can blame them?”

Amber Dawn is Hollygrove Market and Farm’s senior mentor farmer, leader of Hollygrove’s Kids’ Farm and a recent recipient of a master’s in horticulture from LSU.

Dawn started as a garden intern at Hollygrove in 2011 under the tutelage of well-known master farmer Macon Fry. Within six months she was running her own half of the farm, selling everything from tomatoes to muscadines at the market.

She is passionate about her blend of formal training—the secrets of the “big-wig scientists” as she says—and homegrown know-how about growing good food in our own backyards. She considers it her mission to use her knowledge and training to cultivate a new generation of growers who can continue to teach kids the value and intricacies of doing real work with their hands.

“I’m working to create a space to practice the lost art of gardening and thinking critically about the path,” Dawn says.

Over the years, her farm plot has evolved from standard production rows of beautiful vegetables to a more diverse array of perennial fruiting trees and vines. She’s added growing methods that home gardeners can emulate in their own space—like straw bale beds and a method for growing strawberries, in elevated bags of soil strung between two posts, that she learned studying in Costa Rica. Almost all of her innovations use reclaimed materials that she salvages from around town, removing them from our urban waste cycle. She’s even experimenting with how to manage a nematode infestation with deliberate crop rotation and biodiversity.

“Maybe we just take [plants] for granted. Life runs on plants and their machinery, pure and simple, yet is the thing most people know least about.”

Kweku Nyaawie remembers his grandmother’s garden outside the backdoor of the kitchen on his grandparents’ 600- acre farm in Alabama. As a military brat, he grew up all over the world, but always took with him the wisdom and peace of those acres of cucumbers, corn and cotton.

Now one of Hollygrove Market and Farm’s mentor farmers, he tends bountiful rows of sunflowers, tomatoes, greens and more on-site, as well as at his own farm near the Marigny.

Nyaawie moved to New Orleans after Katrina from Texas, where he had been working at some of the spectacular farms outside of Austin. In the aftermath of the flood, he realized that his skill as a carpenter could be useful in the rebuilding eff ort, so he migrated east.

Within no time, he was working the soil with Parkway Partners at the Mission Utopia community garden and farm in the Marigny, putting to work the experience he had gathered earlier in life growing in Texas, Africa and the Caribbean.

No matter where he is, Nyaawie says the work of farming is more or less constant—constant work with your hands, with your body, with the dirt, with the elements. “That’s the beauty about farming,” he says: “You never know what nature’s going to give you, so you have to learn to work with it—and sometimes that means you don’t get what you planned for.”

When asked why he still does the work he shares a story: “One day I had this mom from the neighborhood come up to me. She had bought some of my carrots the last week at the market and brought them home. She tells me that her son—who had been volunteering with me in the garden and helped me plant the carrots—usually hated vegetables, especially carrots. But when she brought my carrots home, he ate them all up and asked for more.”

Photo 1: Amber Dawn Hollygrove Mentor Farmer Founder, Grow Your Own
Photo 2: Kweku Nyaawie Hollygrove Mentor Farmer, Solar Earth
Article from Edible New Orleans at http://edibleneworleans.ediblecommunities.com/shop/meet-your-farmers
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