"When you do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world."
‐ Dr. George W. (he never knew his middle name) Carver
Martin Acres has the highest point and the lowest point in Muhlenberg County, Kentucky and has been used for timber, hunting, oil and gas extraction, and agriculture. It has been in a state of transition since the untimely death of Herbert L. Martin and the migration of many people in this black family to the north for factory jobs. And since the late‐1980s, this family has not practiced agriculture. Some land is leased by a neighboring farm for non‐biological growing of corn and soy. Other land is under a Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) but most of the farm is maturing forests. A creek runs through a portion of the the property, there are two ponds, and other places where water flows.
In the late 1990s, twin brothers (sixth generation descendants of Lorenza/Lourenza and Minnie Martin) Irucka Ajani and Obiora Embry, through presentations to the family tried to encourage the family to grow food organically as a means of generating farm income. However, after a few years of making no traction they decided to put their ideas on the back burner. In 2012, they decided to quit talkin’ about it and be about it (Obiora’s motto from the 2000s).
In December 2012, they sought two acres of farmland on Martin Acres to develop an edible forest garden. The two acres were previously used for cattle grazing, but had been left fallow for 40 or more years. On it were mature trees, bramble, grasses, and bushes. In early 2013, the area was cleared and bulldozed. This left exposed soil and barren land, two large brush piles, uprooted trees, and plants that looked like they were dying. In March 2013, they went to visit the area for the first time.
Irucka and Obiora planted stakes in the ground, took photographs and video, discussed how it would be an uphill battle to turn the desolate looking land into a thriving edible forest garden, but they had nothing to lose and were up for the challenge!
The idea of the forest garden came from Irucka who had attended a talk by, the ecological designer and permaculturist, Dave Jacke on edible forest gardens in temperate lands. Irucka was further influenced by the documentary film A Thousand Suns, which is about the Gamo from Ethiopia who have been practicing regenerative agriculture [using animal waste for fertilizer and growing a variety of food crops intensively] for 10,000 years. Obiora began researching the history of organic agriculture in the 2000s and came across a book published posthumously by F. H. King entitled Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea, and Japan that discussed various Asian cultures that were successfully farming on the same piece of land for 400 years.
Obiora was also influenced by the regenerative agriculture work of Dr. George W. Carver. Dr. Carver also knew that Nature created no waste and that we humans shouldn’t either, and so he encouraged southern farmers to utilize on‐farm waste to replenish the depleted soil. He also talked about not tilling so as to minimize the disturbance of soil and to use cover crops. Dr. Carver also would go into his laboratory or into Nature with no agenda (or a blank slate) to allow plants to unlock their secrets for him.
Other resources that were used as a guide and inspiration include the following:
Irucka and Obiora discussed their edible forest garden plans with their late cousin Kevin C. Martin, who shared similar sentiments about Martin Acres. In 2013, they began assisting Kevin with his venture of raising European honeybees on Martin Acres. The honey that Kevin produced until his untimely death in October 2018 is known as Mom Bea’s Wildflower Honey.
Obiora and Irucka shared the following resources with their family to help them better understand the concept of a forest garden:
In November 2014, we were assisted by Obiora’s friend, Josephine (aka Josie) Dykas, who is half Yaqui. She helped us to transplant Newtown Pippin [heirloom apple], Black Twig [heirloom apple], Arkansas Black [heirloom apple], Conference [heirloom pear], Red Clapp’s Favorite [heirloom pear], Anjou (Beurre d’ Anjou) [heirloom peach], Frost [heirloom peach], J.H. Hale [heirloom peach], Dixon [heirloom peach], Cypress [native], Roughleaf Dogwood [native], Grey Dogwood [native], Green Ash [native], White Ash [native], River Birch [native], Eastern Redbud [native], Black Walnut [native], Yellow‐Poplar [native], Hazelnut [native], Southern Red Oak [native], Wild Black Cherry [native], Elderberry [native], Red Plum [native], Swamp White Oak [native], Red buckeye [native], Paw Paw [native], and Black Gum bare root plants and/or trees. Prior to her assisting with the transplanting, Josephine smudged the perimeter of our two acres and Irucka dowsed the land with a biodynamic preparation.
After two to three years of working to improve the soil, we realized that something was happening on our two acres...some of the trees that were dying when we first arrived had started to come back to life. Our family land was healing itself after years of neglect. We felt that some of it was because of the love that we uttered and gave to our neck of the woods.
In 2017, Obiora was a co‐presenter in the "The Healing Power of Sustainable Agriculture" workshop at the 2016 Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group (SSAWG) Conference in Lexington, KY. For the conference he created an Impress slide show presentation about the edible forest garden. That same year we were selected to discuss our on‐going work at the Environmental & Water Resources Institute (EWRI)‐ American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) World Environmental & Water Resources Congress under the Water‐Energy‐Food Nexus Session of the ASCE‐EWRI Sustainability Committee. The proposed title was "Establishing an Edible Forest Garden to Minimize Human Inputs While Maximizing Ecosystem Production". For different reasons, we were not able to present. The following year we submitted a workshop proposal for the SSAWG Conference, but it was not accepted.
In 2017 Obiora heeded the suggestion by Kevin about doing an inventory of our two acres, and took photographs of various plants that he could not identify. He solicited the help of Alicia Bosela, a biologist and owner of Irownweed Nursery. Alicia helped Obiora to identify many plants, most of which are on our posters.
Four years into the project we faced many setbacks with the soil, among other things, so we decided to rethink our vision for the two acres. In developing a new vision we decided to stop working against Nature, but rather with Her. We realized that the our mistakes needed to happen so we could learn from the past as we planned for the future.