In this month’s grower’s spotlight we talked with Wadria Taylor, a community gardener and a local grower who offers meaningful insights around the significance of gardening in our lives, and how nature and humans are all connected. Wadria traces her upbringing to Jamaica and in this spotlight shares her favorite Jamaican dish made with produce she has grown, advice on gardening, and her journey to becoming a grower.
Grow Pittsburgh: Tell us a bit about yourself?
Wadria Taylor: I was 9 when I left Jamaica to move to Brooklyn. Then, I came to Pittsburgh to attend college. Since I was a child, I’ve always loved nature and have found peace and connection to it. It manifested in different ways and one of them being gardening. My grandfather was a farmer and I remember seeing a picture of him where he participated in a contest in Jamaica and had won the prize for the largest yam. To know that is a part of my history, where my grandfather sold coffee and oranges, and other people bought those from him is meaningful for me.
GP: When did you first begin gardening?
Wadria: I had an apartment in Highland Park and had a backyard and I started there. I would grow simple things that I would eat on the regular. So I did simple things like tomatoes, beets, strawberries, and even eggplant. Then a couple of years ago, I purchased my first home and had a backyard and front yard. I started growing flowers in the front, and my friend helped me and built a container bed. I started with seedlings. I did a lot of things, I did Callaloo, that’s actually something from Jamaica, it’s a leafy green grown in the Caribbean. I thought to myself as I began gardening, “Wow, this is something new.” I put some seeds in the soil to see what happens and that was my approach to it; I was excited to figure it out. Throughout the journey, it reaffirmed my connection with nature and I looked at my plants and was like “Man those are my babies,” I was trying to do everything I could to help them grow. You see the whole process where you see the seeds start to germinate and little leaves come in, and for me, it aligns with all aspects of life.
GP: What does gardening mean to you?
Wadria: Gardening for me is my connection to nature, and it’s really awesome being able to help something grow and see the connection to life. I travel a lot, and with my indoor plants, while I am away I can’t water them so I get worried about how they will be, but then I come back from my trip and they are better than how I left them. With plants growing outside, it rains at the perfect time. It’s amazing to see the process of seeing how nature provides what we need at the moment when we need it. For me, I get so lost in nature, I can spend all day in the dirt and gardening helps me bring into the present. Gardening is a way for me to come into the present. It’s a lot more than gardening, it’s fun!
GP: What made you decide to join the Duquesne community garden?
Wadria: I am still looking forward to doing something with my bed, but I moved here 3 years ago. Right when the pandemic happened, I was really fresh and new at that point and I hadn’t even lived here. I found myself spending more time at home. I am usually very active, and I am always running around. I went on a walk and I came upon the Victory Garden and I was like, “Wait what is this” and I continued walking down and I realized “Wow, there is a garden there.
The same day, I stumbled on the garden manager, Scott, it was serendipitous. He gave me the rundown of everything from how it all works, how to participate, and the history of the garden. I haven’t grown anything yet but I have definitely reaped the harvest and have been eating the food. When the garden is in the season of harvest, there is an abundance of things. On Wednesdays, the growers make the harvest available for the community to come get food. I’ve gotten things like squash, vegetables. I look forward to planting some of my own things this year.
GP: What’s a piece of advice you would give to new community gardeners?
Wadria: For me personally, I am not into labels, and my whole thing is not to be intimidated by labels. If you’ve never gardened before or if you have never had your hands in the dirt, then being a gardener is a faraway concept. Look at it as though you are experiencing something new and it will be fun. Look at it like you are exploring and looking to have fun in nature. In that, you may find that you are naturally inclined and skilled at gardening. I would say dig in (no pun intended) and look at it like an adventure in nature, and to not get intimidated. As kids, we get to have fun in nature but as adults, we work, and we do different things and have many responsibilities. It’s a way to get out of your day-to-day routine and in the process, you might learn you are very good at it.
GP: What’s your favorite thing to grow? What do you like to make with it?
Wadria: I like to grow things that I eat regularly. I know it’s basic, but tomatoes! I eat tomatoes with everything. My favorite thing to grow so far was Callaloo because that is Jamaica. Callaloo is comparable to spinach and I eat it in a lot of different ways, especially with the national dish of Jamaica, Ackee, and Saltfish. It’s a green that you can eat with anything. The way I like to do it is simply sauteed with onion, salt, pepper and garlic.
GP: From the Grow Pittsburgh’s values, which one resonates with you the most?
Wadria: Resourcefulness and equity. I think for people it’s important to be empowered to make their own food. Resourcefulness aligned with that. We are natural growers and we come from an agrarian society. With the pandemic one of the gifts that came out of it is realizing that it’s good to be empowered to take our health into our hands. With equity, everyone has the right to have healthy food and access to it.
GP: What are some lessons gardening has taught you?
Wadria: It has reaffirmed our oneness. As human beings we are creations and so are plants, gardening has reaffirmed that. When I get consumed with things that come with being an adult, challenges, and overwhelming days then I turn to gardening and it reminds me that things are well and all that I need is provided for and we have everything we need.
GP: How do you hope to learn and grow your skills as a gardener in the future?
Wadria: As I continue to evolve as a person, I definitely would become more experienced on how to transition seasons, and I’ve attempted to do that in the past winter and I wasn’t really successful. I would like to do that over the wintertime. I want to figure out how to transition from season to season so I can learn how to prepare and grow during the winter months.
GP: Final thoughts?
Wadria: I would encourage everyone to start gardening. You don’t have to have a backyard. We have what we have, and if you have a fire escape, use your fire escape. Community gardens are great because they come in with a built-in community. They are a great resource and if you don’t have one near you then reach out to people near you. Start with YouTube videos and just start with where you are and with what you have.