Rooted is WDET’s newest offering of stories about land tending, community healing and regeneration happening right here on the ancestral land of the Indigenous Anishinaabe, the area commonly referred to as Detroit.
“Every single thing about gardening, farming, food growing relates to life. Once you realize that that’s what you’re doing … and you’re involving yourself in that, regardless of how big, small, active you are in the food growing scene, when you put your hands in soil — not gloved — when you actually interact with soil, food, harvest it, it hits different as the young folks say,” says Dazmonique Carr, who founded her business Deeply Rooted Produce in 2017.
Carr describes Deeply Rooted Produce as a mobile grocery store, although she notes that the hyperlocal business is working to increase its production of Detroit-grown produce on several lots throughout the city and to expand into distributing fish and spices. Deeply Rooted also hosts community gatherings and volunteer opportunities.
Carr spent much of her youth in New Jersey and then came to Detroit to run track and field and study kinesiology and sports administration at Wayne State University. It was at that time that she began to dip her toes in a variety of volunteer opportunities. This is how she first developed an interest in gardening and growing food. Over the years, that interest transformed into greater involvement in existing organizations like Keep Growing Detroit and Earthworks Urban Farm and then Carr officially started Deeply Rooted in July of 2017.
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“What It Means To Be Deeply Rooted Is To Care About What Came Before You”
As a young person working to find community in Detroit, Carr explains that at times she has struggled to strike the right balance between tending to her needs as an individual and to be connected to a community. She says that to be deeply rooted is to embrace both of those realities and to “realize that you have something to contribute within this larger system.”
There Is Always More To The Story
Spreading mulch across big sheets of cardboard on one of her side lots on the city’s east side, Carr wears a red shirt with the following phrase in giant white letters: “There is more to my story.” She says it’s a mantra for her work to not just grow food, but to also address the systemic inequities baked into the food system as a whole. She says the statement is a gesture to recognize that there is always more happening than what meets the eye. “There is more to what everyone goes through … more to the food system and more about how we go about our day to day,” she says.
“There is more to what everyone goes through … more to the food system and more about how we go about our day to day.” –Dazmonique Carr, Deeply Rooted Produce
One of the big unspoken parts of the story for many growers, according to Carr, is lack of food access and food security. “Most of our farmers, although we are distributing this great food, we are food insecure ourselves,” says Carr, who also experienced food insecurity as a college student and athlete unsatisfied with the limited offerings at small markets and liquor stores near campus at the time. She compares the conundrum to teachers who spend all day with kids but have to put their own children in day care.
“You’re providing this great service but you’re providing it so much and you want to change the system so much, you don’t realize that you’re a part of that system that needs to start internally,” explain Carr. Addressing this issue is part of why she started Deeply Rooted in the first place. “I’m trying to change that narrative of us as farmers and food growers and cultivators trying to change our experience around poverty and food insecurity.”
In Creating Connection and Sustainability Within the Local Food System, Story Matters
Carr acknowledges the challenges of coming up against an increasingly globalized food system that offers year-round options at low prices for consumers. She says it’s about education, and changing the dynamic and narrative between growers and consumers. “The wages that we distribute and the prices that we charge are things that actually contribute to our day-to-day life,” Carr says of the financial aspect of her business. “Sometimes the market price is just to cover [business] expenses, but we have to cover our household expenses as well.”
In addition to trying to provide a living wage for herself and the farmers she employs, Carr also works to regenerate the soil she is working with using a variety of methods. She notes that these processes make a big difference in the sustainability of the land itself and also provide optimum conditions for the produce to have a rich taste and high-nutrient density. “We make sure that the ground is celebrated and rejuvenated so that it can furthermore provide those plants with nutrients … it’s profound … and it shows up in the food that we produce,” she says.
“Farming and Gardening Heals Generations”
Carr says that her journey into growing food and gardening has fortified relationships with her mother and grandmother. Carr says that after starting Deeply Rooted, her mother told her that she went into labor with Carr in a garden. While she says the relationship with her mother is complicated, she says that she knows the relationship wouldn’t be what it is without gardening. “The way that [I bond with my mom] is through me giving her advice about gardening and food growing.”
While Carr’s father doesn’t participate in growing food, she says that he has also given her important foundational knowledge. Carr learned about her familial ancestry through her father and values his experience as an African American man who grew up in a house that had been in the family for some four generations.
Other teachers and sources of guidance for Carr include her young son and mentors like Baba Malik Yakini of D-Town Farms and Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, Mama Hanifah Adjuman and her business partner Raphael Wright, who she says has taught her a lot. “Literally everyone I’ve encountered has taught me something,” says Carr who also counts all the mistakes she’s made along the way as teachers in another form.
Carr says she is most excited to grow peas this year and is looking forward to another summer of cultivating fruits and vegetables on land in Detroit. “I think it’s very important for me to talk about my ancestry and the things that I’m doing because it connects with me internally,” she says, adding that she values the ability to talk to about this aspect of her identity and how it creates a foundation of liberation in her work growing food.
“I want people to know — mainly Black people — that growing food is a revolutionary act that we must do so that we can connect with our ancestors, not just the ancestors that were enslaved but the ancestors that we don’t even know about, that actually grew food just to survive … it’s a healing process,” says Carr.