Charlotte’s Brandon Ruiz Speaks at Organic Growers School’s 29th Annual Spring Conference
Brandon Ruiz is a community herbalist, urban farmer, and owner of Yucayeke Farms, based in Charlotte. He works to provide affordable access to herb medicine and culturally relevant foods through farming plots around the city and by hosting affordable herbal classes.
NA: How did you get interested in herbs and farming? Where did you receive training in these fields?
BR: I originally got interested in early high school because of a teacher who was into juicing, plant-based foods, etc. They saw my interest and supported it. From smoothies, juices, “superfoods” to learning through self-study, networking with herbalists, and learning from elders who had been practicing for decades, I just ran with it. I also attended the Blue Ridge School of Herbal Medicine in 2017, which was very helpful in challenging my knowledge and exposing me to others who were doing the same. Even yet, I feel that an “official” certificate from an institution isn’t needed to practice herbalism.
NA: You teach courses such as “Puerto Rican Herbal Medicine” and “Caribbean Plant Allies”. How does Caribbean Culture influence your work?
BR: The medicines and the cultural concepts of healing I use as well as my own personal lineage are influenced by Caribbean culture. My family is from Puerto Rico, and though I was born in Florida, I visited Puerto Rico often as a child. My family moved to Charlotte for work when I was about 5, and partly because I was no longer learning Spanish, my connection to Puerto Rico weakened. In recent years, I’ve had a strong desire to reconnect and have spent more time with family there, learning about traditions and being around the plants that inhabit the island. The Caribbean is a very special place with so many cultures and I love studying everything from language and linguistics to cultural foods and remedies.
NA: You launched Yucayeke Farms to cultivate culture through urban agriculture and herbal medicine in Charlotte. How does Yucayeke Farms cultivate culture? What need did you see in Charlotte that motivated you to do this? How has your work been received here?
BR: We cultivate culture by growing culturally relevant foods from all over the world in the communities of our area. For example, a few years back we grew an Afro-Caribbean Garden in a neighborhood with mostly Black and Caribbean community members. We grew hibiscus, lalo, oregano brujo, yuca/cassava, recao and so much more, focusing on getting the produce to community members familiar with its use. Another year we grew everything from sugarcane to papayas (which didn’t totally ripen, but we do use unripe fruit and the leaves as medicine). There is a lot of focus on the Caribbean with my work, and due to cultural exchange over time, a lot of these plants extend beyond the Caribbean. Growing yuca, we had interest from people from Africa, India, and South America. Lalo brought people from Haiti, Tunisia, and Lebanon.
Charlotte is a culturally rich city and I saw a desire for culturally relevant food and plant medicine, but its availability seemed limited to chefs and expensive businesses that labeled them as “exotic”, making them unaffordable and culturally irrelevant. The community members we connect with are a mix of folks wanting to start businesses, reconnect with their culture as well as culturally connected community members who want to source locally. I feel like we have been received well. There are things I want to do better, like more space and land of our own to help provide a solid foundation to the farm - I always feel there is something more I could be doing.
NA: You are a speaker at Organic Growers School’s 29th Annual Spring Conference near Asheville in March. What do you plan to talk about in your presentation?
BR: I’ll be talking about building community through plants and culture and herbs for resilience and strengthening of the nervous system. These are very important topics for me and my community as life can be tough and systemic oppression can negatively impact growth and stability in our lives. It is important to support ourselves in all ways, especially with our plant allies. By supporting each other and growing our cultures, we are stronger.
NA: Do you have any other initiatives you are working on?
BR: Yes! As I search for permanent land in NC, I’m doing a lot more online work such as a 6-week herbal introduction course as well as individual zoom classes and more. I’m used to doing things in person so it’s a little hard having to be away from people, but eventually we will be back in-person on the land, whether that’s through newly leased land or a permanent farm space.
For more information and to purchase tickets (early bird pricing through January 31) to the Organic Growers School and Mother Earth News 29th Annual Spring Conference and Market at Mars Hill University in Mars Hill, NC, visit www.OrganicGrowersSchool.org, email [email protected] or call 828-214-7833.