Gardening as a practice in liberation with Poppy Okotcha

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Black Earth - Poppy Okotcha

Marion Atieno Osieyo: [00:00:00] Welcome to Black Earth podcast. I'm your host, Marion Atieno Osieyo. Black Earth is an interview podcast celebrating nature and the inspiring Black women leaders in the environmental movement. In this season, we are reimagining the environmental movement as a place of joy, of belonging, of effective action, and of deep relationship with Earth and ourselves.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: In this episode, I am joined by Poppy Okotcha. Poppy is a visionary and incredible ecological home grower who is inspiring the world to reconnect their relationship with the land and the living world. In this conversation, we explore liberation through the practices of growing nature, growing food, and growing ourselves.[00:01:00]

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So hi, Poppy. Could you please introduce yourself to our listener community?

Poppy Okotcha: Hello. Um, so my name is Poppy Okocha. Um, I am an ecological food grower, both on a home scale and in a community garden project, um, as so often that kind of goes hand in hand. I'm also a keen forager and home cook. Um, I write and speak about what I do and share a lot of it on social media as well.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much. And where are you currently based Poppy?

Poppy Okotcha: I'm based in South Devon in England.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Coolio. Um, so Poppy, how would you describe your relationship with nature?

Poppy Okotcha: Yeah, this is such an interesting question because we, I feel like in English we don't quite have like the accurate language for these things.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, because to have a relationship [00:02:00] with nature is like a funny thing because like ultimately like I am nature. So it's like, it's almost like a question of like what's your relationship like with yourself. And like, I don't know, it's a strange thing because at the same time along with that there is also like obviously an understanding in me that there's a world outside of me that I can have a relationship with too, but it's a funny one.

Poppy Okotcha: It's like complex and I still don't quite understand how to hold that complexity out, like considering I don't necessarily have the words for it. So in a nutshell, my relationship with nature is evolving. I'm learning all the time. Um, and I think that my relationship with nature is partly an evolution of a relationship with myself, but it's also partly a kind of growing relationship with the world outside of me.

Poppy Okotcha: So yeah.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much for sharing that. And, um, I really hear you on the English language and the ways in which it can hold [00:03:00] or it speaks about, uh, you know, the way we conceptualize like reality and everything else around us. There was an interesting article I read, last year, and the author was speaking about how, you know, what would it mean if if the environmental movement wasn't in English and it recognized or, you know, we expressed ourselves through the thousands of other languages that exist, how would nature be conceptualized in those languages and what would it tell us about, um, the being of nature and how we relate to it.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so it is a very complex and nuanced question, but it can be, it can be anything that it means to you and the relationship that you hold with nature and, you know, the understanding that, uh, you are nature, um, and there's no separateness in that, but it's, it's continuously evolving. And so thank you for sharing [00:04:00] that.

Poppy Okotcha: No, I definitely, I mean, I suppose one element that is particularly evolving at the minute is me trying to get a firmer grasp on, so I'm mixed heritage, um, Nigerian from the Igbo tribe and white British and I have like, um, you know, some grasp on some of the traditions and rituals and things and cosmology of, like, the pre Christian people in the Northern Hemisphere.

Poppy Okotcha: But I'm only just starting to get a stronger grasp on that from my Igbo side, and some of that is learning more about the goddess of the land, or Mother Earth in a way, um, called Ani or Ana, and there's one particular saying that goes Ani, and I'm not gonna say this well because I have pretty much no Ebo , but it goes Ani nwa madu, something like that.

Poppy Okotcha: And it basically means the people belong to the earth or to this earth deity. And to me, that really speaks to like, I suppose, where my relationship with nature is at the moment. Like for me, nature feels very [00:05:00] much alive in the way that like a person is and it feels very much like something I belong to and I don't know if it is the right word but this entity.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And is that in any way kind of informed by how you live now in terms of being a grower and a forager? Or has that been something that has been with you throughout?

Poppy Okotcha: Yeah, it has been. I mean, it's funny. They've kind of evolved hand in hand because I started leaning into wanting to learn about growing and engage with growing because I was having like a sort of evolving understanding of my relationship to the earth.

Poppy Okotcha: And I, and I actually wanted to get a deeper understanding or experience of that relationship. So I had like an inkling of what I was trying to follow, like a feeling I was trying to follow, an experience I was trying to follow. And learning more about growing food [00:06:00] was almost like a tool to like get further along on that journey, if you know what I mean.

Poppy Okotcha: So I suppose, yeah, it has definitely informed my relationship with land, nature, place, um, but equally because of my relationship to land nature in place, that journey has been what it is, if that, if that makes sense, um, so, yeah, it's like a bit of an Ouroboros situation where like, you know, the serpent chasing its tail.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, yeah, I think that my growing practice like really kind of came up with one in a way I wanted to understand better how I could live on the earth in a way that was harmonious to a degree. And so that is, I feel like what I take away from my growing practice, it's like learning about how to feel connected to place and, um, working, I suppose a popular word at the moment is reciprocity. Yeah. Working in a way that's rooted in that.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you for that. Um, when, [00:07:00] when I heard you speak now about kind of the moment you decided why you wanted to start, you know, or continue your growing practice, it felt as if it was like a firm decision. Um, and I've heard you speak in other interviews about your life as an international model, and then you leaving that and, uh, your growing practice emerged.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So I wonder if. That was like the turning point for you or, uh, were there earlier influences in your life? Um, whereby you were always interested in growing and gardening.

Poppy Okotcha: Well, that was definitely a turning point for me. It was definitely like there was a definite clear pivot. Um, I was very much like embroiled in an industry that was like the stark opposite.

Poppy Okotcha: You know, to begin with in my career in fashion, I was doing a lot of like more, um, what [00:08:00] do you call like high end kind of fashion, like less fast fashion. But as my career kind of went on, it was more and more fast fashion. And as you can imagine, it's just like pure extraction, um, right from like the process of producing the fibre to the people who are making the clothes, the people who are producing the imagery that are selling you the clothes.

Poppy Okotcha: So like, you know, the whole thing is pretty like intense. Um, so. Yeah, I was really looking for something that was the opposite of all that because I suppose by being in that world I just like had such like a clear experience of like the impact it has it's not like this kind of abstract concept in my head that you know maybe I watch a documentary about or read a paper on or something it's like I was in it and I was seeing how not only affected like people around me but also myself like I was.

Poppy Okotcha: So, yeah living by that kind of extractive mindset of like, you just keep going and this kind of scarcity thing that comes along with it, um, in the fashion industry, particularly in, in modeling. Um, [00:09:00] and Yeah and as I was sort of learning more about how I could find better wellness in my body and my like myself, um, sort of understanding health through the lens of food was really something that drew me in and it didn't take long before I then was like curious about, Oh, where's this food come from?

Poppy Okotcha: And then that's when I was like, Oh, I could grow some. And then it kind of escalated from there. Um, and in tandem with that, I was also understanding the impact that food has in relation to the climate crisis and not just like the negative impact, but the huge potential that lies in food and how we feed ourselves to actually have like a really powerful mitigation, you know, against some of the adverse effects of climate crisis to, you know, basically, uh, try to slow it down.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, so that was really exciting for me. But I suppose before, like, all that happened and I had the big light bulb moment, I was already, like, interested in growing, I suppose. [00:10:00] Like, my mum always had houseplants and, um, we moved a lot when I was a kid and there wasn't, like, money or anything.

Poppy Okotcha: And so whenever we moved, mum would make a garden out of, like, nothing. And, you know, feed us like really good homegrown salad. And like, that was a really powerful part of my childhood and seeing, you know, my mum struggled with mental health and seeing the impact of growing that garden had on her. That was also super formative.

Poppy Okotcha: So I suppose it always been around me. Um, and then in my time of like searching, it just came back up and was like, this is a place to root in, I suppose. Pardon the pun.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. Thank you for sharing that and sharing a bit about your mother's journey and her relationship with, with growing. Um, and I feel this is one of the ways in which it's important to talk about [00:11:00] at least within the context in which you and I exist in, in Europe to really talk about, nature through the lens and the prism of relationship. Um, as opposed to, object or something inanimate. Um, because once you see it through that lens, I feel that it's easier for people to become more conscious of the ways in which nature has been a place of, of healing, a place of awe, a place of inspiration, and, um, some, someone who has accompanied them throughout life in, in different ways and different manifestations.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So, yeah. Thank you for sharing that and kind of giving us an insight as to how that experience was for you and how that led you to see growing both as an opportunity to, yeah, to remedy some of the, um, the harms and the changes that we're seeing on, on our planet.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and [00:12:00] I know like as two people who you know, deeply care about earth, I hope that your experiences, um, in the fast fashion industry is somewhere that can still be a place of learning and not somewhere that you think of like as, Oh, that wasn't me. This is who I am. Um, because I believe everything that we go through, everything that we experience, every path that we take has something to teach us and to show us and give us more clarity.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Speaking of which, what experiences do you take away from that time in your life in the modeling industry, which have informed your practice as a grower, um, or just the way you think about life and, and, you know, the person that you are becoming?

Poppy Okotcha: I think as more distance kind of falls between myself and that time, [00:13:00] um, it's easier for me to look back and see the lessons. Um, I definitely experienced, I suppose, like an element of shame in like in the first few years, even sometimes now, to be honest, that I was like involved, like deeply embroiled in that world and, you know, accepting money from it.

Poppy Okotcha: And I don't have that so much now. I mean, every now and then I suppose it does pop up, but no, I definitely feel that I have, like, learned a huge amount. I mean, look, I have, like, the deepest friends from that time as well. Like, it wasn't all bad. There was, like, also, it was incredible witnessing, like, creativity and, you know, there's also a part of me that feels like I witnessed an incredibly not efficient in terms of like sustainability, but efficient in terms of like that industry gets done.

Poppy Okotcha: Like they're getting people buying their clothes that like, it is, it is merciless. And I think that there's something actually [00:14:00] quite, um, interesting about working within that industry, because you learn kind of like how, how, how to get things done, I guess. Um, not, not all of the methodologies would I, um, prescribe to, but like in a nutshell, I think it was a really good kind of training and business to a degree.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, and a lot of what like I do on social media now is basically rooted in what I learned when I was working in fashion, which was about like, if you have a story that you want, if you have a thing, a concept story, narrative or product you want to sell, like, it's about the way that you draw the viewer of that thing.

Poppy Okotcha: How am I saying this clearly? Like, I think during, while I was working in fashion, I learned clearly about how to market a story to a person. Um, unfortunately the industry I was working in, the thing that was being marketing, marketed was not a good thing, but I've been able to kind of flip that on its head.

Poppy Okotcha: And now the story that I tell, I feel is really powerful. I mean, I know it [00:15:00] had an incredible impact on me in a positive way. And so I'm kind of able to use that experience working in selling a concept to people to sell something that I think is really beautiful. Um, It's a lot easier to do because like the proofs in the pudding, like people feel good when they engage with this stuff.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, and it is just so multifaceted, you know, like it's the benefit isn't just for the individual, it's for the community, it's for the earth, it's the ecosystem, you know, all of us as a whole. Um, so yeah, you were asking some of the lessons that I learned. So I think there was that.

Poppy Okotcha: And then also probably learning about the importance of rest, um, like fallow time. I know that at the beginning I was obsessed with, I mean still am to a degree, but less obsessed with like compost and like winter and like some of the kind of like pagan type of teachings around like death and [00:16:00] decay. Um, and I think that was in like direct response to being in an industry that's obsessed with like growth and newness and youngness and freshness.

Poppy Okotcha: And I really started to, I suppose, you know, in contrast to that, understand the value in, um, basically senescence. Um, and that's something that you learn so keenly and in a growing space, like you can't have that spring, summer abundance, and youth and beauty without the death and decay that happens in autumn and winter.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, so that's definitely something that I learned from that time as well, like a very, acute understanding of like circularity because I'd seen the opposite of that in action, if that makes sense.[00:17:00]

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And that resonates with me a lot in, in terms of spirituality and faith, because there has to be cycles of, of death in order for, rebirth to happen. And it can be so tempting to want perpetual summer, perpetual spring, perpetual fruits. But you need, uh, you need winter, you need autumn, you need those seasons also, um, in order to become, um, whole as a person in order to, to be able to appreciate the abundance, true abundance of not just spring and summer, but the abundance that can also emerge from winter because there's a lot of it.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So thank you for, you know, embracing the lessons that you've learned in that part of your journey. Um, as you were speaking just now about, um, [00:18:00] how your experience in the fashion industry kind of gave you the, the insight and tools and how to like market the story. Um, I was so excited because, you know, I follow you on social media and I'm like, you know, when I go to like my, you know, my shared garden, I have no clue what to do.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And then I go on to your social media. I'm like, Oh my gosh, this is possible. Let me get back out. Let me get back out. I can do this. Um, cause your work, the way you talk about, gardening and growing the things that you share really do inspire kind of joy and, and pleasure and excitement about this whole process and this whole experience and practice.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and, you know, having read some of your work and listened to some of the interviews, I know that as much as, you know, you, you learn some game from the fashion industry, it's also, it's [00:19:00] also rooted in like very deep principles and approaches to growing and gardening.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So, um, could you share a bit more about some of the principles that take, um, when you're thinking about how to grow with nature, how to grow food?

Poppy Okotcha: Yeah, so I suppose the, like, the skills that I learned in fashion are more applicable to, like, the business side of how I run what I do.

Poppy Okotcha: I don't think I learned a single thing in fashion about, like, how to actually engage with land, how to grow food, any of that. I suppose maybe I, like, got a very vague understanding of, like, fibre, like where that comes from. But aside from that, no.

Poppy Okotcha: So, um, you asking my growing practice. Yes. So my growing practice, I, I call it ecological.

Poppy Okotcha: There's like so many words that you can use to describe the sort of thing I do. Some people might call it permaculture. Some people would just call it no dig. Um, there, there's, you know, there's so many different ways of labeling it, but I like to say ecological because I feel [00:20:00] like it basically says like, If it's, if it's good for the ecosystem, if it's viewing the garden through the lens of relationality, then like, it's welcome.

Poppy Okotcha: And that there's so, you know, there's so much nuance to do with like, where we are in the world, our climate, our soil type, etc, etc, that like, there's not like really a one size fits all way of growing. Um, and the important thing is about, is the relationship, is the ability to kind of like, observe a landscape and respond accordingly rather than be like, Oh, well, you know, X person on the other side of the world said that I should never dig.

Poppy Okotcha: You know what I mean? Like there's so many different contexts and ways things can or can't be useful. So I don't prescribe to one particular thing only, but my growing practice basically centers, um, uh, soil care. So for me, that's like cultivating a soil that's rich in organic matter, really high in different, various diverse life forms, because ultimately that supports healthy plants, makes my job a lot easier as a grower.

Poppy Okotcha: The plants are [00:21:00] healthy and bounce back from pest disease issues and very far more tolerant to adverse weather conditions. Um, And it also makes the plants that I'm growing for food, um, far more nutrient dense. Then I also focus on, uh, growing with seed that is sourced ethically. Cause like, I guess this is more of like a symbolic gesture because it doesn't just apply to seed, it applies to like all the resources that come into the growing space.

Poppy Okotcha: It's like, okay, so my garden is going to be ethical, but I don't want to be like, jeopardizing some other environment far away from me in order for my garden to be nice. So it's like, okay, so the seed, you know, who's growing that seed? Where does it come from? Is it organic? All those questions related to any resource that comes into the garden.

Poppy Okotcha: So yeah, that's, that's in relation to seed, but also anything that flows into the space. Um, harvesting water because water literally is life. Um, there's so much kind of like energy that goes into processing and cleaning our water in the UK. Um, the plants don't need that cleaned [00:22:00] water. They actually prefer rainwater. So taking pressure off of our municipal water systems is a really good thing. And also helps to reduce like kind of, um, runoff of water and potentially into drainage systems, which again are under high pressure, particularly with like more intense weather events.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, then I also like to ensure that the garden space is not just like beneficial for me, but is also helping other people. So like, whether that is the fact that I use it as like a kind of demonstration space for my social media content, or whether that's doing simple stuff like giving away seed or taking it to seed swaps or sharing produce. Um, yeah. So ensuring the growing space is impacting lives outside of my own. Um, And I think those are the key principles.

Poppy Okotcha: I think I've run through them. Water, soil, um, seed, community. Water, soil, seed, community. Yeah, that's it. Biodiversity. That's the final one. Ensuring that the growing space is like a space that's [00:23:00] not only good for me, but also good for the creatures that like share this locality with me. So whether that's ensuring I grow like, you know, a variety of native wildflowers or growing organically so that it's actually a welcoming space. It's not just going to kill them on arrival. Um, that sort of thing.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Wow. Thank you so much. Water, soil, seed, community and biodiversity. That is, uh, that is incredible. Thank you so much. Um, I feel like a part of that, I mean, if I was to add one thing it would be, uh, consciousness.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I know, I don't know actually, because I, I'm not like a grower, um, but it is a completely different way of being and living in this world when you are growing ecologically. Um, has that been a gradual shift for you or have you always kind of [00:24:00] had a consciousness that's mindful of your place in, in this world on earth in relation to, to nature, um, cause it's also to do with things like time. Like you have a completely different concept of time when you're learning how to grow. Does that make sense?

Poppy Okotcha: I mean, I love this cause you're asking me like, you know, normally I don't get asked these questions, but ultimately like my growing practice, I'm going to just be bold and say it is like deeply rooted in a spiritual practice.

Poppy Okotcha: I grew up in a family. I was raised like kind of Christian, kind of not. My dad is like a super spiritual man and he basically dips his toe into like every kind of... esoteric, religious, spiritual practice there is in the world, and he kind of like, well not every single one obviously, but he tries. And he shared, has shared, continues to share, um, so much of that with us growing up.

Poppy Okotcha: My mum, she's also a very, very open woman, [00:25:00] and so Yeah, my like, my growing experience is like, it does, I don't really necessarily have the words for it. It's like communing with the divinity and like a truth beyond like all of it, I suppose.

Poppy Okotcha: And that's part of what drew me. It felt like a kind of a growing space, a living landscape has the ability to like inspire awe and a sense of belonging and place while also making you feel so small and humbled and connected to everything. And that is something incredibly spiritual and magical and I do think that, you know, there's a sorrow in me that so many of us live now in a time in the world when we don't necessarily have like a spiritual practice, whatever that might look for ourselves.

Poppy Okotcha: And I think that like, I know for me in periods of my life when I haven't been like tethered to a sense of awe, a sense of guidance. [00:26:00] Like I haven't felt great and I think that I think that there's like a lot of sustenance and guidance to be had from having a spiritual relationship to a piece of land. And I think that that's something very valuable for us in this time. Um.

Poppy Okotcha: And I think that I'm not sure that a relationship, I'm not sure, I kind of have this feeling that all relationships with land, place, growing, whatever, foraging, any kind of relationship with a living landscape that is rooted in relationality kind of is spirituality, even if you don't want to put the label on it, even if you're like, no, I'm not a spiritual person, whatever, then that's fine.

Poppy Okotcha: For me, it looks pretty spiritual, like to feel connected in that way to something bigger than oneself. To me, that is kind of like, one of the key ingredients to spirituality. So yeah, like, I totally agree. One of the, [00:27:00] one of the things that could go on that list for sure would be, what was the word you used? Consciousness? Yeah, because 100 percent that is like the fundamental piece there because if you are layering all those other concepts on top of a lack of consciousness or a lack of understanding of relationality, then they just are like, kind of like void of substance and meaning. I think there's a risk in ecological growing or growing, home growing in general at the moment, of the power in it being co opted and turned into an aesthetic, which is something I see so often at the moment, particularly on social media. It's like the kind of like, um, dig for victory vibe of like, I'm doing organic growing or whatever, but it doesn't necessarily have the bit that's really radical, which is that shift in actual consciousness and the shift in how we relate to one another, ourselves and the earth around us.

Poppy Okotcha: So yes, I think you're very right. That is a key ingredient. It's 100 percent the like bedrock of how I interact with landscapes. [00:28:00] And it's what I really hope and, you know, pray that, that people end up taking away with them when they do engage in, in, in growing spaces. or non growing spaces, wild spaces, whatever, like living landscapes.

Poppy Okotcha: That's it for me. You know, if, if people can have that experience, then that's a good, good thing.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And it is, it is amazing. It is amazing. I have never come across anyone who hasn't spent time like in, in a landscape, in a seascape and not come away with some sense of awe or beauty, or you know, fascination. Um, and I feel, you know, when, when people are rightfully, um, kind of thinking, you know, what can I do in the face of all that is happening in the world, especially when it comes to, to nature and climate, there can be, um, an instinctiveness to want to start doing [00:29:00] stuff. And there's so many things you can do.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: But I feel that the real shift, at least for the human species is with within the context of being, um, the work to be done is about being and not necessarily about doing. Um, otherwise you have an endless list of things you can do and it just becomes overwhelming. Um, if you haven't really taken time to, yeah, to, to explore what are the things that, uh, are to be learned or unlearned in the way you're, you're thinking or feeling you're experiencing, um, um, nature. And that isn't to say that you shouldn't do anything. That's not what I'm saying. Let me clarify that.

Poppy Okotcha: What I'm saying is like a foundation, right? Yeah. I fully agree. Yeah. Because it's that thing of like, you know, when the so called solutions come from the same place as the problems, then they're just temporary solutions.

Poppy Okotcha: And they're going to bring with them a whole heads of problems. I, do often, you know, [00:30:00] one of the reasons that I like kind of share the stuff I share, whether that's speaking, writing, or social media is because I really feel strongly that like, there isn't a silver bullet to any of the issues we're facing as humanity today.

Poppy Okotcha: Like there just isn't, there's kind of, there's so many ways in which the climate crisis, well, so many ways in which the way we live is leading to climate crisis that you can't be like, okay, we just need to like stop oil. Okay. We just need to fix our food system or just fast fashion or whatever it is.

Poppy Okotcha: Like, I would be so excited to see a movement which is focusing on, like, a more holistic shift in perspective. that can then be the foundation for the fine details. So, you know, what if all the people in all these executive decision, decision making spaces within all these different industries had the same, they were rooted into the same world view, and what if that world view wasn't extractive scarcity mindset capitalism that we're existing in now?

Poppy Okotcha: What if it was something more about relationality, et cetera? So I feel [00:31:00] like, for me, the detail is important, but if the story can change about how we relate to one another in the world, The detail will kind of come. That's my feeling around it. But I'm not an anthropologist or scholar or anything like that.

Poppy Okotcha: But, you know, that's my contribution to the discussion, I suppose.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, no, I hear you. And it resonates for me. It resonates with, um, why we started this podcast, right? And also resonates with my own personal journey in this work and thinking about, um, how to live differently in a way that is harmonious and caring and loving towards myself towards other people and fundamentally towards, um, all life on earth.

Poppy Okotcha: Would you share a little bit about your story?

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I definitely can. Now you're I mean,[00:32:00] I mean, look, I grew up in inner city London. Before that, I grew up in inner city Nairobi in Kenya. Um, and I didn't have an awareness of nature. Like, obviously there's nature around me, but nature was more of like... uh, an object or part of the physical surroundings around me more so than like living beings who are like breathing and interacting with myself and other people.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and I, I remember I, I started working for a nature conservation organization like five years ago and I remember like, I was really embarrassed because everybody knew like all the names of different types of plants. And I literally, my goodness, I knew nothing. I absolutely knew nothing. And I was just, it was like the more [00:33:00] shame, like, how can you not know, you know, but they never made me feel that way.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: They never made me feel that way, but it was just more like. These group of people have access to language and to a part of reality that I had known nothing about yet has surrounded me my entire life.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Two experiences changed that for me, I think. Firstly, um, I, I was recovering from, um, severe depression and I was running a lot in, um, in public parks. I just became more aware of like nature and different trees and different landscapes and terrains. And that was like, so cool. And then my transition to a plant based diet. Um, so I became vegan about seven years ago and I think after the first month I was like, I need to not just eat chickpeas and rice because this is not sustainable.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: So I had to learn about different[00:34:00] pulses and like vegetables and fruits and how they're grown and The t different types of soils and why this, this type of seed is more acidic than the other type of seed. So it was just all these things. I just suddenly my world just opened up and I actually realized there is a name for this experience and it's called, um, plant awareness disparity and it's used to, um, describe a lack of knowledge or like attentiveness to plants around us.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, the majority of its studies have been done mainly in like urban spaces or urbanized spaces. So like there is a tendency to assume that people who live in urbanized spaces have higher levels of plant awareness disparity because they are not, even if they're [00:35:00] surrounded by, you know, trees or like, you know, flowers and bushes, they're not necessarily aware of it or attentive to it in the same way that someone who grows, for example, would be attentive to different types of plants, different types of vegetation or species that exist in that space.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so that's, I think that partly informs why I wasn't as conscious of the fact that like, it wasn't just that there's plants around me or like different types of plants, but like they're living, they're actually living and, and living not in like, oh, because they're growing, they're alive. And if they're not growing, they're not alive. It's like, no, actually they live all the time and they have their own life and they communicate with each other. And it was just like. Wow. And, and I think for me, this is one of the reasons why relationality is so important when we're talking about nature is because when we, um, [00:36:00] start to appreciate and accept the reality that like all of nature is alive and like living and doing its own thing with or without us being attentive to it, it kind of broadens our perspective on like just how wonderful and like cosmic and big this planet is.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, and, you know, the tiniest seed, you know, on the ground to like the biggest tree or the biggest mammal, you know, they matter just as much because they're part of this like web of life that is flowing with us.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And, it's another reason why I really love your, your content on social media. Because you're kind of showing us like how to, not just different ways of growing, but I feel like you really are making people aware of like, that they're different types of plants. They're different, it's like, there's a variety and there's diversity and it's like, it's really exciting.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And [00:37:00] it's also exists wherever you are. And I feel that is more important even now because we're moving towards a world that is becoming more urbanized and that has, um, lower rates of like, you know, um, green spaces or lower rates of like nature existing. And we do need to, um, have like visible reminders all the time that like plants exist and that they are like alive and they are diverse and that they, yeah, They're very unique and different in the way that they grow and the way that they exist in and around us.

Poppy Okotcha: Yeah, no, that does make total sense. I'd add to that actually that like that experience, I mean, yeah, statistically I'm sure there is like huge disparity in in the ability for maybe someone who grew up in an urban space to be able to like tap into that world but [00:38:00] would also like kind of add the layer that weirdly there's like this kind of concept of the countryside or rural places as being like in England anyway, this kind of like, idyll that's like, you know, people are so connected to all these green spaces and whatnot, but you know, in truth, I think it's like 92 percent of the UK isn't accessible to us to be in and on. And majority of the green spaces, even in rural places are owned. You can't get in them. If you do get in, it's hard to get out. Um, and they're full of monoculture crops, which are often sprayed. So you probably wouldn't want to go in there anyway.

Poppy Okotcha: So it's this weird kind of like, um, uh, contrast between the image that we have of the British countryside, which is this like beautiful green landscape. When in truth, like, there is huge biodiversity in urban spaces and in places where humans live because there, there is safety from the kind of more aggressive [00:39:00] landscapes that modern industrial agriculture has kind of created. So it's there's a really interesting like kind of, again, relationship that I suppose, um, where there's almost like a false sense of, life in the countryside.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, and I remember moving to London from Wiltshire where I spent my like teen years and being like, like in London, you know, there's like streets everywhere. You're just like going around the place. Whereas like in Wiltshire, like you'd get on a footpath, you'd walk somewhere, the footpath would end. There'd be like fences everywhere. You have to turn around and walk back again. Like you can't go anywhere. So, um, Or unless you're walking on the road and that's dangerous. So yeah, there's, there's an interesting, interesting thing there. There's actually a great book called, um, The Urban... No, hang on, I've got it here.

Poppy Okotcha: Have I got it here? No, I haven't got it here. I think it's called Urban Jungle, and I can't remember the name of the author, but it basically explores this, like, [00:40:00] the sheer quantity of biodiversity and wildness in urban places, um, if it's allowed to... have space to thrive. T

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you for sharing that and like bringing to light like the nuance in terms of our perceptions of rural, urban biodiversity.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I remember also like sometimes explaining to people like, you know, whenever you, you know, you might go to a particular place in the UK and you see like rolling hills and like, you know, idyllic landscapes and you're thinking, wow, there's so much nature and it's like really hard to explain to them. Like, there's actually no biodiversity there. It's like the complete opposite. And they're like, what?

Poppy Okotcha: That's a part of that thing about the co opting of that. Like, you know, so often I see, so often I see imagery, um, in like the kind of, world of like slow living or food growing or foraging [00:41:00] that's like, Oh, you know, having this beautiful nature connection moment in the rural countryside.

Poppy Okotcha: And yes, if you're having that experience internally, then 10, that's amazing. But there's also the danger of it not getting deep enough. And for us not realizing that that like wheat fields that we're frolicking through is like covered in potentially glyphosate and like, you know, like really, really toxic.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, and a bit of a desert, you know, so it's interesting. It's like a green desert.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But how do we, how do we get to a space where like people can access this type of knowledge and information, right? Because I don't think I think especially within like when it comes to really tech, not technical, but important skills, life skills, like growing, um, I don't, and I'm happy to be corrected on this, but I don't feel that the knowledge is as available or accessible to [00:42:00] an everyday person who is living life to be able to kind of take on board and like apply, but I'm, I'm open to be challenged on this.

Poppy Okotcha: It's interesting. I think that, like, this information isn't necessarily part of our, like, it's not necessarily part of the information that we're just, like, sort of subconsciously fed all the time every day. Like, you know those memes that you see of, like, can you name these plant leaves? Can you name these logos?

Poppy Okotcha: And you can name all the logos and not a single leaf. Or, like, yeah, I guess there isn't that kind of, like, subconscious absorption of this kind of information going on in our culture. But I would, I would say that like, you know, with the internet, there's like, so much free information out there. Um, and some of it from like, incredibly experienced, knowledged, um, people who've been working, you know, in their, in their practice with the land for a very long time, and maybe people that we wouldn't normally have access to.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, YouTube is full of incredible people doing incredible things. If you just like [00:43:00] kind of get your search terms right, um, all sorts comes up. Um, I also think that a lot of us, particularly people who listen to this podcast will probably have access to community gardens.

Poppy Okotcha: And there's so much information sharing that I suppose there does have to be like a bit of a proactiveness about it. Cause like you said, it doesn't, it's not just like on billboards. Although can you imagine if it was? Um, and there are so many incredible books as well. Um, yeah, I don't think it's necessarily immediately accessible.

Poppy Okotcha: And I suppose the other layer to that is that, you know, there's, it's one thing if you've got the time to sit there and, you know, absorb all this information through YouTube or reading books or whatever. Um, going on courses, um, but a lot of people, we don't necessarily have the time. So I think that maybe in those instances, I really feel that community growing is like a really amazing thing to do, particularly if you can find a garden where you can exchange your time for food, because then you're getting, you know, well grown produce.

Poppy Okotcha: And through the process of growing that [00:44:00] produce, you're also learning and supported by other people who maybe, have a greater understanding of what's going on in the process that's happening. And you're also getting like a nice wellbeing moment. So, um, I'd really encourage engaging in community growing.

Poppy Okotcha: And if you don't have the time or, or finance resources, then try and find one that you get something in return so that your time given to the learning experience is being, um, reimbursed, if that makes sense.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Okay. Yeah, that's brilliant. Um, I really like the concept and idea of community growing. It's something that, um, it's a space where people can learn together as well, as well as taking part in a practice of, you know, collectively cultivating .

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And I mean, just connected to that, season two for us is all about re imagining the environmental movement. Um, because I feel sometimes the images that people have of like being an environmentalist is uh, can be quite, can be rooted [00:45:00] in like very kind of militant imagery, like, you know, we have to fight for our planet and, uh, there's a lot of like resistance language.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And in part, I think sometimes that is needed. But I feel that, um, it's important for us to also make space to nurture an environmental movement that's centered on joy, on care, on pleasure, because I feel when you are living in right relationship with earth, those things are like a very natural manifestation of that.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, but yeah, I mean, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you feel gardening and growing helps us, can help us reimagine an environmental movement that is centered on those things.

Poppy Okotcha: Yeah. Well, I suppose, like, I suppose for me, I think that growing alongside with the relationship element, which we've touched on so much also teaches us so much about care and nurturing. Um, [00:46:00] and that's in quite a stark contrast to the resistance kind of, um, uh, the resistance mentality, I suppose, that also exists in the climate movement. I think you're absolutely right. I think that both are hugely important.

Poppy Okotcha: Um, but I do think that growing teaches us so much about, yeah, care, exchange, abundance. I think that one of the most exciting things about gardening is that it kind of offers like a kind of blueprint slash learning experience for what a world that is truly sustainable can look like.

Poppy Okotcha: Like a garden teaches us abundance like nothing else. So, you know, it's an antidote to that whole scarcity thing. You plant one seed, it becomes this gigantic squash plant that has like hundreds of more seeds for next year. Um, if you kind of like fulfill your element of care that's involved in the contract of gardening, then you get, like, so much in return.

Poppy Okotcha: So there's that, the [00:47:00] abundance, the care. Um, there's also, like, the understanding of the importance of circularity. There's the importance of complexity and diversity. Um, there's the understanding of like communities because, you know, when we start to see the garden and run, grow a garden ecologically, like community is like everything in a growing space, whether that's like looking at the community that a plant surrounds itself in terms of microbes and fungi, which support that plant because the plant can't move, support that plant to, you know, basically weather whatever the world throws at it as it stays rooted in that one spot.

Poppy Okotcha: So there's like, or whether that is the way that plants, you know, communicate underground or, um, or the way that certain plants maybe support other plants and they're growing. Like there's so much kind of complexity and community in that and again that is something that we could very well apply to our climate movements or just any community living way of life in general.

Poppy Okotcha: So I think that there's so much [00:48:00] to be learned from growing that can be applied outside of growing and I think that's the moment when growing becomes like truly quite radical is when the lessons from how a garden grows. can be brought out into our wider life and inform the way that we live.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: I have two more questions for you. Yeah one is to do with Black womanhood. Yeah. Because I was inspired because I read an interview where you spoke a bit about that and how, there's a, no, maybe [00:49:00] this is a projection, but I don't think I projected, but you can clarify, but, um, there was this kind of notion of like being presented to be like a radical voice or like a different voice and that kind of being connected to your identity, you know, as a mixed race black woman.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, I think I'm at the point in my journey, I'm very much divesting from, struggle and pain like being political as like the identity of black womanhood.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And, um, It's actually through my own personal journey and relationship with nature that I have actually learned how to center things like pleasure, like rest, like care, like softness, like receiving,[00:50:00] as more central to my identity and the way I see other Black women in my life.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Um, so yeah, I just, I'm just curious as to how that part of your identity shows up in your work or how people present you and how you've navigated that. Like, especially cause gardening in the UK and growing, people don't think of, you know, I mean, now they do because, you know, you're so well known, but initially I think even when I've gone to like gardening events in London, um, that are not, grassroots, yeah, um, the demographic respectfully ?

Poppy Okotcha: Um, well, so, uh, yeah, I feel often resentful, I have felt often resentful that I couldn't just be like, left in peace to like talk about ecological growing without being the black woman that's talking [00:51:00] about ecological growing.

Poppy Okotcha: I don't know, I mean it's so complex because at the same time it's that I absolutely adore that like I might be the black woman that like some little black girl is looking at and is like, oh, like I could put my hands in the soil as well. And like, I so belong here and I have every right to like explore out of an urban situation into rural and engage with whatever the hell kind of like caring landscape activity I want to.

Poppy Okotcha: So it's complicated because like on a personal level I'm like ugh, and then on a broader level I'm like so fed by that it's just like so incredible and and I know that like when I was a little girl I saw a picture of Alek Wek in a magazine and that was like the first time I saw a black face like in the media really that like struck me and I cut the picture out and put it up on my wall and then I became a model, you know, so, I don't know, I don't know.

Poppy Okotcha: I feel like there is power in seeing ourselves represented in places but [00:52:00] yeah, at the same time, I suppose, I suppose I really hope that it runs deeper than just seeing, just visibility, because I feel like the real like, the real powerful work is when, you know, and I guess I'm speaking to diaspora here because I'm a mixed race woman living in England. Um, is that for me personally, and I, you know, I hear this kind of mirrored to me by so many other people is that there can sometimes be a sense of like, do I belong? And like, how do I find a sense of place in this landscape that maybe I don't necessarily feel so connected to for whatever reason.

Poppy Okotcha: And I think that growing, um, really offers like so much peace from that in that, um, yeah. So I really hope that aside from like the visibility piece that then it encourages people to actually engage in it that then it can offer some peace and a sense of belonging and welcoming, you know, like [00:53:00] we all deserve to engage with land and doesn't really matter where it is.

Poppy Okotcha: Does that answer your question?.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: And I think it's, uh, it's your truth. So it definitely answers my question.

Poppy Okotcha: I suppose there's one other layer to that, which is that for me, um, Ecological gardening has also offered a lens to connect with the cosmology of my ancestors on my Igbo side. Um, and I'm definitely just still learning, I don't think I would quite grasp the truths that are being shared from that cosmology the way that I do now, being someone who's rooted in, like, a practice of growing.

Poppy Okotcha: That cosmology came out of a culture and a community that was deeply in relationship with land because it was, you know, pretty much subsistence. Um, so I think that there's like a layer of meaning that I manage and that I'm able to like connect to. I think that's how it feels anyway um, through this experience and I really value that like means so much [00:54:00] to me, like that quote from the beginning of like the people belong to the earth.

Poppy Okotcha: There's like so many ways of reading that. But as somebody who, like, grows food, it, like, means everything, because, like, the earth feeds us, clothes us, waters us, you know, gives us our bodies, and we'll take them back in the end. You know, that's the kind of reality that you maybe don't grasp as deeply when you don't have the experience of turning a compost heap.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: For sure.

Poppy Okotcha: That I agree with.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Thank you so much for joining us in today's conversation. We'd love to connect with you and hear your thoughts. We are on Instagram. Tiktok, and LinkedIn at Black Earth Podcast. Don't forget to share this podcast with your [00:55:00] friends, your family, your network, your communities, and you can also subscribe to our podcast wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

Marion Atieno Osieyo: Black Earth is a proudly independent podcast, and we are on a mission to reconnect and heal humanity's relationship with nature. If you'd like to support us, we are on Patreon at Black Earth Podcast. Thank you and see you in the next episode.

Creators and Guests

Marion Atieno Osieyo
Marion Atieno Osieyo
Creator and Host of Black Earth Podcast
Gardening as a practice in liberation with Poppy Okotcha
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