Gardening is a beautiful metaphor for life, says Maayan Chelsea, co-founder of Soul Gardens in Barnardsville. People plant seeds of intention and weed out what no longer serves them, she says. As the plants grow, so too does a sense of belonging.
That’s the spirit Soul Gardens’ education and holistic living programs aim to embody. Now in their third growing season, Chelsea and co-founder Scotty Karas offer an eight-month apprenticeship program beginning each spring for folks wanting to learn about organic farming. Participants learn the basics of plant identification, medical herbalism, orchard care, fermentation and composting, as well as gratitude practices, mindful eating habits and nonviolent communication.
“There’s a desire to grow food that is deeply nourishing and has all the minerals and love in it that humans need to survive,” Chelsea says. “We find that just taking it back into our own hands is the best way to achieve food sovereignty, and we really want to educate people to have the same skills so they too can have independence over what they eat.”
A core aspect of Soul Gardens’ work is to give back to the Cherokee people through acts of service. Once a month, the Soul Garden apprentices help a Cherokee elder tend her own garden. Last year, Soul Gardens grew hundreds of pounds of potatoes and sweet potatoes for Cherokee families experiencing food insecurity.
“I’ve noticed that a lot of people think the Indigenous people of America are dead,” Chelsea says. “But they’re still here, and their cultures are vibrant. There are still people who carry on the traditional ways and traditional knowledge of the Cherokee language, and they have so much to teach us.
“We’ve received so much by getting to live on this land,” she continues. “It feels like the tiniest, minor act of reparations to just say, ‘How can we help you? How can we be of service to you?’ It’s important to us to do what we can to make what our ancestors have done a little bit less painful.”
Applications for Soul Garden’s apprenticeship program will open in the fall. For more information, visit avl.mx/98w