~Story by Mike Rollin; photos by Laura Hedeen & Patricia Cumbie
Chairesia, a Minnesota native, grew up in Minneapolis. Her parents are originally from Texas, where her mother grew up on a family farm that raised cotton, vegetables, and livestock. After working in the technology field for many years, Chairesia decided to pursue a lifelong interest in health, nutrition, and wellness. Then last year a friend told her about MFA. “I got excited thinking I can farm organically!”
For Chairesia, a guiding principle in her life has been the dictum, “Let thy food be thy medicine” (Hippocrates). For her that means building bridges between health care and healthy eating. “How can food prevent illness? How can we get the most nutrients from food? I think organic farming is one way to do that.”
In her first year farming at Big River, she has planted a big variety of vegetables, including hot peppers, tomatoes, squash, carrots, beets, and peas. Also, in a nod to family history. cream peas, similar to black-eyed peas. Her mother told her, “If you can’t grow them at the farm, you have to grow them at your house!”
While she had always gardened wherever she lived, farming is a much bigger scale. “You can’t just let things go. You’re managing all the planning and costs.” She hasn’t been alone. Siblings who live in the area have pitched in, along with nieces and nephews and friends. “They’re pulling weeds and Snapchatting.” Her mother has also been a frequent visitor to the farm, providing company and keeping an eye on the cream peas.
MFA support has been invaluable. “I like that they take people in with all levels of farming experience. There is a strong support system, and its great they have past graduates of the training here assisting us.” She also appreciates the genuine way farmers help each other. “When people here offer help, they’re not looking for something in return. When they ask about your crops, they mean it.”
In addition to her vegetable plot, Chairesia is also growing a second plot with herbs, both medicinal and culinary, including holy basil, chamomile, mint, and calendula.
Her goal to make plant-based healing teas, tinctures, and oils, and to market herbs to practitioners of alternative medicines. She is also looking into creating a hybrid CSA model for her vegetables. “I always wanted to get a CSA, but couldn’t find a way. I want more people to have access to healthy food.” Her future plans include getting a bigger plot at Big River next year, focusing more on fewer crops that are the most important to her, and building markets for her produce and products.
Down the road, she’d love to buy some land and start a teaching farm. “Organic food is expensive—how can you grow your own? I want to pass this knowledge along, I want to give back. It’s hard work at the farm, but at the end of the day you feel good, you feel peaceful.”