Dissatisfied with the produce in her local supermarket, Mia Hayes-Hawkins decided to do something about it. She wanted organic produce at reasonable costs, so, for a couple of years, she grew a few herbs and spices in her apartment such as basil, rosemary, chives, tri-color sage, and lemon thyme. Plants were neatly arranged in places where they could receive the right amount of sunlight. But she wanted to do more than just grow produce for her family. Hayes-Hawkins wanted to share the fruits of her labor with the community.

“My community doesn’t have a large supply of fresh produce.  So instead of pointing fingers and placing blame, I just wanted to do something about it,” said Hayes-Hawkins.

No stranger to agriculture, Hayes-Hawkins attended the Chicago High School for Agriculture Science. She received a bachelor’s in agriculture from Virginia State University, graduating with high honors. While attending the university, Hayes-Hawkins served as an agricultural technician working with plant breeders and scientists.

In 2004, she moved to Sacramento, Calif., to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a statistician acquiring data from farmers to determine monthly forecasts on commodities for pricing. She later moved with her husband to Atlanta, Ga., where she operated her own landscaping company. She continued the landscaping business after she moved to the District. Her knowledge and skills in agriculture and landscaping have paid off.

Last year, Kenneth Butler, program coordinator of the Langston Dwellings Garden Association and Community Health Program, came into the AFRO’s District office, where Hayes-Hawkins works as the office manager, with flyers inviting community residents to partake in a nearby community garden. Excited, Hayes-Hawkins jumped at the opportunity and purchased two plots, just a few blocks away from her job, and named them Sweet Plant Nation, LLC.

“I was so excited that I had some land space. It allowed me to do more for the community and my newly starting business to promote organic living and reintroduce home-grown produce to the general public,” said Hayes-Hawkins.

After tilling the plot and prepping the soil, she planted all-organic produce such as bell peppers, lavender, jalapeno peppers, collards, nasturtiums and calendula (edible) flowers, rose feathers and several varieties of lettuce using the companion gardening technique.

Hayes-Hawkins also gardens according to the phases of the moon.

“I’m aware of the importance of lunar forces in plant germination and growth, so I planted the garden by the moon,” she said. “The day I planted was one of the month’s favorable days for planting most aboveground crops, seedbeds and flowers gardens. I also planted the majority of the seedlings in the direction of north and south, a practice which refers to an old theory that suggests the earth has positive magnetic currents running north to south.”

Butler and other nearby gardeners say Sweet Plant Nation’s plots are impressive.

“Mia’s theme and unique way of gardening flowers and herbs gives different variations of gardening as a whole, but especially to people looking for ideas. Our youth gardeners seem always delighted to look at how Mia’s plots are coming along. It gives them inspiration,” said Butler.

Carolyn Dupree, vice president of operations and development of Uniting Our Youth, agreed. “It’s quite impressive,” Dupree said. Uniting Our Youth is an organization that brings youth from different wards of the District to peacefully engage in projects such as gardening.

Youth from Langston Terrace and LeDroit Park government housing facilities got their knees and hands dirty and planted organic beets, lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, oregano and flowers. “This harvest season, the students will make their own salads and spaghetti sauce,” Dupree said.

The youth involvement is one sign of a growing trend. Urban community gardens are cropping up in many places throughout the District as more and more residents become aware of the benefits associated with growing your own food. Urban gardening is becoming so popular that some newly built facilities are including plots on roof tops.

The trend may have been energized by first lady Michelle Obama’s creation of a garden on the south lawn of the White House grounds, where students from nearby schools assist her in successful efforts to grow organic produce befitting for a president’s family and friends. The foods are also donated to a neighborhood soup kitchen.

Hayes-Hawkins plans to donate the majority of her first harvest to a community food bank and walk around the Benning Road neighborhood handing out produce while educating residents about community farming and healthy living.

“The work I am to do is to enlighten our community on the multi-faceted benefits of plants and how to sustain ourselves and the earth,” she said.

 

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO