January 2019–January 2020, Black with Plants will publish q and a on mental health + community building with botanists, college dropouts, horticulturalists, plant care specialists, natural hair experts, social justice advocates, sound therapists, etc. across the thirteen hardiness zones in the United States and African diaspora.
What do you want readers to know about Botany? being a botanist in 2019? Or a creative project that you are working on? and the role of community building, and its impact on mental health?
Botany, or Plant Biology, is a field that I feel is often forgotten or disrespected. People often just assume that I got the degree to grow weed, or that I’m some sort of horticultural or agricultural super guru.
I want all to know that while botany, horticulture, and agriculture are related fields, THEY👏🏾 ARE👏🏾 NOT 👏🏾 THE 👏🏾 SAME! Botany touches the science of the mystery and magic of the flora we live and our ancestors lived with.
Being a botanist in 2019 is cool, but in this age of the “Green Rush,” it seems like everyone has green thumb. Everyone wants to do a quick google search, read some random Facebook post, and purport the benefits of hemp, or the new weight-loss tea, or some other diet. It’s bittersweet, but I’m kind of excited to see people take an interest in plant life; I frankly want people to have that same energy when it comes to the upheaval of forests, swamps, and greenspaces when the next gas station, or neighborhood is thrown up. I also want people to have a mind to truly research the power of these plants and what they can do.
One project that I’ve been working on is creating The Crazy Botanist, and the brands under that umbrella. With any project that I work with–I want those who collaborate with me and those who participate to come out with some new knowledge. I want people to learn of the Gullah cultures, the possible medicinal benefits of plants, how fermentation is fun, and how plants and people both need each other.
Community building is important to me, as we have more power together as a whole than separated as a individual. One tree does not make a forest. I want to continue to work in the area of food insecurities, showing my community, and world, that with they can grow their own produce and herbs. And I feel that the utilization of herbs within the Black community is a thing that was lost somehow. Some of us are so fearful of ingesting things we’ve never heard of. And I get it, I was that person. I just assumed that I didn’t like something because I never tried it, because my family never ate it. But thankfully I had friends, coworkers, and family who stretched me past my limited understanding. And on the other hand, if I have to buy food using a EBT card, I’d probably be wary of wasting money on a new thing that I’d hate too.
Lastly, I often find my peace outside, walking, singing or listening to music. The natural landscapes that are around me here in NC can provoke a serenity. I can traverse a forest and just bathe in the awe of the greatness of this world, my God and myself. And even when I’m working with houseplants, or gardening, I just feel stress leave as I work with the plants, or dig in the dirt. My problems truly disappear. I know my personal refuge is wrapped in the plant and fungi world. I always suggest for people to find a park, and just relax.
What about the opportunity to display foliage, etc. online (specifically via IG) first interested you in committing your time and energy to plant care-taking?
I have always had a love for plants since I can remember. They are just that interesting to me. And if someone can take a selfie with a duck lip smile, I figure I should be able to take a picture of a magnolia and share it to the world. My love of plants and the energy to take care of them existed prior to social media. Being on social media lately has allowed me to see the adventures and findings of other planty people and fun guys and girls. Also social media has also given me a platform to try to spread some education out to the world.
I now have devoted time to making my living space a jungle/healing haven, so I can have that “big botany energy.”
What do you think are the five key characteristics of a successful place?
I think I should first define success and place as I see it: Success–The ability to complete a task or project at one’s self-determined level of excellence. I express myself generally through creativity, so my success is cultivated in that area. Place–My environment. It could my home, workspace, office, or just where I am physically located.
- Peace: My place has to be to my level of peace, or else my creativity is killed, and then success is harder for me. Granted, what may look like peace to some may be chaos to others, but you have to do what works for you. An example, my ex needed a quiet environment to study, while I could work in that, or with the tv going. We had to learn to make our space peaceful for us both. Lastly, if anyone in my space wrecks my peace, they got to go.
- Open for Collaborative Work: I have to be able to easily work with others in my space. This could mean having access where we can sit together, or something as simple as a wifi password and a shared document. This also means those in the space have to be open for collaboration when required.
- Access to Resources: I cannot be successful in a place where I’m wasting time looking for stuff. No pencils, no pots to plant in, markers are missing. I’ve been called a hoarder, but I hate getting into the creative spirit, find myself in the middle of a project and then see that I’m missing a needed thing.
Be Comfortable: This is different than the peace aspect but related. I have to feel at home. My room wasn’t comfortable, and thus I found myself stagnant in it. But I added plants, hung up some pictures, and boom, I was at home. I began to create. It seemed easier.
- Put in the Work: If the other four areas are filled, then it’s up to me to put in the work. It’s the most important, but sometimes it’s forgotten. Success doesn’t just pop in like the Great Gazoo, we have to give to get. If I don’t put in the work, who will? We have to remember the goal, that success at the finish line, and keep grinding to get there.
Community engagement is a significant obligation of direct service. With that in mind, can you tell us about your experience in engaging with your contacts day-to-day? Do you notice services rendered positively affecting your contact’s psychological well-being?
My contacts range from those around the world, to those I’ve met in the store, or met through Instagram. I can say that the information about plants that I’ve shared, the drinks I’ve made, or the general conversations I’ve had seem to help people. This world can be a dark place, and I work to be a light to others in the hopes that when I’m not feeling that bright someone would do the same for me.
I’ve heard good things about the interactions those have with me, but I find it hard to see. I’m just Derek.
Would you be willing to share a memorable moment from 2018?
I found myself upset at a situation, and I took a trip to the UNC Botanical Gardens. While doing my typical crazy botanist activities, taking photos of plants, I attracted the attention of a couple of people. Anyone who knows me knows that I love a good conversation, ESPECIALLY about plants. I told them about venus fly traps, and ended up being asked about my job, and thoughts on plant life, and conservation. I had a small crowd of like four or five people listening to me, and they didn’t know me from a can of paint. That moment showed me that I am not just a background character. I’m smart, a good speaker, and I can draw a crowd. I’m not boring.
That was especially empowering due to how I view myself. It shifted the perspective I had of myself, and my talent.
Your perspective is invaluable. Thank you for distilling your talents, sharing your time, and a contributing to the local economy. Can you tell readers a little bit about your perspective on securing space for psychological healing and/or wellness?
While my main focus is ethnobotany, spaces that work to heal the mental wellbeing for others is super important. Psychological illnesses and scars are often hidden unlike a physical scar.
Securing the space to get better is everything. I’ve recently been working on making my space, home, office, etc, a place of healing and mental wellness. I cannot express how important it is to have a space to have a reset mentally. And it has to be more than a space you visit briefly. I love going to church, and the services bless me, and are my places of healing and recovery. However, I have to have something more than that to get through the week.
What does it mean to value a friend as you would value a partner (which is counter-hegemonic)? Is friendship the missing linchpin required to engender the realization of socio-cultural value?
I may be a one man band when it comes to The Crazy Botanist, but I would be lost without the input of my friends. They’re my sounding board. They often hear my ideas, or read my writings before the world does. And due to their different backgrounds, I feel like I get a good mix of feedback.
My friends are my partners in this thing. They are the ones I hope to employ, the ones I trust to be looking out for me.
Final thoughts from The Crazy Botanist (@botanical.highlander):
I wish the world would strive to recognize and appreciate the plants around us. What would the world be without grass, trees, or the smile a flower can bring? Let’s work together to teach the world to see the importance of plants, and tear down the fake news surrounding teas, and herbalism. Let’s come against the dismal pyramids of thin teas, or these detoxs that just make you poo and pee.
But most importantly, take time to learn something new.
Of course, check out my instagram page (@botanical.highlander) my facebook (www.facebook.com/thecrazybotanist) and my website (www.thecrazybotanist.com), and my email firstname.lastname@example.org.