For episode 3 of our Conscious Gardener interview series, Jimbo had an informative, & fun chat with Derek Haynes, aka The Crazy Botanist. You can listen to the full interview here; it's a lengthy one, so we transcribed some choice snippets for you below!
Jimbo: “What is botany and what does a normal day through the eyes of The Crazy Botanist look like?”
Derek: So botany is the study of plants and it is not for the culture, and it is not agronomy (even though they are related), but it is essentially the scientific study of plants. So where biology is the study of life and geology stud[ies] rocks and stuff, I study plants, because they're frankly better. So that is what I do and in my typical day - I've been off because I had a birthday on Saturday - I go to work. I work at a company in RTV that uses tobacco to make a flu vaccine, and from there I leave work I may go see a - before this pandemic - I may go and check on the community garden I volunteer at, from there I may come home and water my plants or go out and buy some new plants or some new stuff. Once I get home my day can consist of cooking, painting pots, painting pictures, repotting plants and making different items for Instagram. I used to go out to the movies, but that'll never happen again. [chuckles]
Jimbo: Not for a while, that's for sure!
Derek: Not forever it feels like. So I do a lot of cooking and repotting and propagating and like I was trying to explain to Sir JohnT up here, Mr. Steven, I ended up trying to let people know like, as a botanist, this is my career, but this is also my passion. So I'm really a crazy plant person. I really am The Crazy Botanist because there's only one, so that is my typical life.
Jimbo: “I want to talk a little bit about this concept of plant blindness. I know you touched on this in some of your videos a little while back and it's the idea that essentially we aren’t able to distinguish between a lot of things that are green. Especially trees are trees, and grass is grass, fungi is fungi. How can we teach others to start to value and see the diversity inherent within nature?”
Derek: So when you look out, for example, out at this beautiful wonderland, we can have a macro or a large scale view to say there's trees here, I see grass, there are understory plants, herbaceous things - but we have to know what all those words mean and in order to get a true feel, we have to be able to come out here as I am, barefoot and really, again, get entangled with these plants and say, “Hey, this is a shaggy oak! How do I realize this is a shaggy oak?” Well, I look at the leaves and the leaves tell us the story. And I look at the branches, and the branches tell a story. And these shaggy looking seed heads tell a story. And acorns come out, and it's like beautiful, I love them! How can I tell this is a moss? Well it’s
low to the ground and all of that good stuff. And even cause I usually see Japanese Honeysuckle out here, but it doesn't look like I see any on today which is sad, even when I'm looking at a pine - all North Carolinians and most eastern coast Americans know - when I look at a Pine, well how can I tell? There's even a sensory appeal of sniffing this thing, breaking the leaves, these little needles and sniffing this thing and saying “mmm - there's a typical pine aroma.” So you can get a full immersion into these plants and become entangled, as it were, you can become entangled in these plants all August. Okay, and you get into it and you don't have to have Jada and Will bring you to the red table.
Jimbo: We went there, We went there!
Derek: We did! We can have a love affair with these plants! Okay #entanglement. And we can get in and be like, “Hey, these are this,” and once you know what a plant is on the medicinal side especially, you can know, “Hey, this is how I use this.” There are patches of poison ivy here in front of me. I know what it looks like and we can know like, hey, I can be careful not to touch that. The needles, I can use them for stomach issues, there's all these different things I can have a benefit for. Even if I'm using plants for decor or beauty so that plant blindness again is really getting out and starting small and just trying to see, “What is this? What is that?” You can talk to your plant people, your botanist, because sometimes they can ID a plant and tell you what it is and blazzy boom. And apps you can get that you can take a picture of a plant and [it will] put you in the right direction. And there's even just your local extension office. I always say contact your local Cooperative Extension Office because they can help you out!
Jimbo: So Derek, I’d love to talk about Black Botanist Week. It was… last week correct? Yeah, and it was designed to promote and encourage safe spaces for black people who love plants and you know, I heard you open up about this on Soul Sister plants (again go check out her feed) that you faced a lot of challenges and there have been - in many cases been - the only Black botanist in the room and that that's created, you know, in some sense, a sense of isolation for you that you're not exactly part of the community. And I'd love if you could just reflect A) on what black botanist week was like and if you're able to connect with, you know, some new folks and also just a little bit about the challenges you faced and how you're working through that to create a more diverse community.
Derek : Okay so Black Botanist Week was basically this thing where us people who are in the botanist realm, in that area stem, were able to have a space, a time, a hashtag to basically be Black and to bring awareness that we exist within this field. So it was a series of days where we had the ability to interact not only with each other, but with our community or social media and again to send out almost like a smoke signal or an SOS to say, “HEY, with this hashtag all of us can look at each other, network, and communicate.” So it was a beautiful thing, so again I love the plant people and I love the plant community but this thing was more centered on those who were, who are, actual botanists because I found a lot of people on Black Plantstagram and I talked to them and I follow a lot of people - almost 700 people. Howsoever, I think of those 700 people maybe 30 are botanists. So it’s kind of like hmm.. what’s up? And then on twitter there's some who are there that I've seen but you know my twitter is a professional twitter so when it comes to that, that's what that was. As a Black man in the botanic world, even at my job, I think there's only been two Black botanists there. Like, we've had Black men there and even in that, under 10 that are in my group, but as far as those who were actual botanists in the greenhouse group I think I was the first, if that. So it is
something, to be that person in the room and to feel alone and to look around and to say, “these people look nothing like me.” And although we can relate on a passion for plants - which is already a very intricate thing to have because we are very odd people, us plant people - but to then add on that the shades of my race and my culture, it's been a difficult conversation because a lot of my white peers or my peers of other races will never understand fully what I go through. Some who are non-black - or non-white, rather, will get some things, but there are some specific things that are at the intersection of being a Black botanist that is - and in America and just - I can’t often find a relation there until I talk to another Black botanist. And once I do it's like, “Ah you understand!” Like, I literally talked to one this morning and I was like, “Wow your experience was mine! We went through the same thing!” Being the only Black man in the room and trying to deal, trying to cope, and trying to handle it so with all of that I say, well, how did I deal, how do I currently act? Well, at this point I've tried to work in the field and to downplay my Blackness as some of us do within Corporate America, in general us Black people. I'm now in the place now - I'm like look, I am Black, I am freaking intelligent, creative genius and as a creative genius I don't have to stifle myself to make you comfortable and in person, you and those who may be offended by Black culture by Blackness in general by Black skin. So while I'm not out to be disrespectful or to be rude or to knock people over the head, I am not out to baby people anymore. So that is how I deal with that if that makes sense.
[Taking questions from viewers]
Derek: What are some practical ways to be less reliant on big agriculture? What are some good starter veggies and plants to grow at home? So you can always do peppers and tomatoes. Those are the latter part of your question.
Jimbo: I just got the 2 minute warning from instagram so we gotta rapid fire!
Derek: We are rapid fire! So I live in NC State. I'm growing some peppers here and I have a couple of tomatoes here. So become less reliant on big agriculture. Victory gardens, all of us grow our own food and share, all of us have space to grow, all of us share. Then we can be able to do something bigger.