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We sat down with Kristene Smith, Sacramento business woman and award-winning author, to talk about her work, her love for gardening and women who farm.

Tell us about yourself and the new project you’re working on.

Essentially, I’m a brand strategist. I develop content and creative for brands and campaigns. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. My communications work can be seen at www.kristenesmith.com. I also write urban fantasy adventure books under the pen name K.N. Smith (www.knsmith.com). Recently, I developed a signature community initiative called Mental Health California. I have combined my communications experience with helping others, and have anchored my new nonprofit with the first health and mental-wellness magazine in California, plus we offer training, community forums, and student programs that change lives (www.mentalhealthca.org).

Is there a relationship between organic, healthy food and the mental health work you do?

Absolutely! One of the things we teach is nutrition and mental health. There is a direct link between the two particularly with omega-3’s, zinc, B vitamins, folic acid, and magnesium. The scientific community has released a steady stream of reports in this regard noting that lower glycemic foods can assist mental clarity and certain mental health conditions. In addition, certain mental health conditions can bring about a change or dramatic decrease in appetite, so it’s especially important to bolster health through proper nutrition and by dealing with vitamin deficiencies.

What is your vision as you continue moving forward?

Because my nonprofit venture is so much bigger than me and the work I do in other areas, I envision an active and widescale statewide network that helps others and changes lives. Those of us who are informed have a responsibility to inform others and to work with younger generations for purposes of prevention and early intervention. I see myself continuing to write books and do creative work, moving around the state and other parts of the country, and even the world, inspiring others!

Tell us about your achievements.

I’ve had the opportunity to work on some of the best programs ever for over 20 years. From working with the State of California on student educational campaigns to entertainment projects to housing projects, I have seen the best and worked with the brightest community-focused professionals in the state. Although I have won awards and been widely recognized in the media and community for my communications work, it is these collaborations that help each of us to shine in what we do.

What is your biggest challenge?

Time! But luckily, I believe in mono-tasking, the practice of mindfulness, and I have the ability to time-block and really focus to get from one task to the next without interruption. My family shows a lot of patience. They slide my food under the door, allow me to lock down, and know that I’ll be out later. If I push through, hopefully we can all have a movie and popcorn by 9:00 p.m.!

We know that you love gardening. Tell us about that.

Well, with my garden busting-out this year there’s a lot to say! It’s one of the most peaceful and relaxing things I do. I’m blessed to have a sister who taught me the basics, and I read and practice a lot along the way. This year, I have chard, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, cucumbers, edamame, snap beans, squash, and herbs. I also planted six fruit trees. That’s a lot of stuff! I can (preserve) or give away whatever we cannot eat. At home, I have over 90 outdoor plants and flowers. Also, gardening informs my work. From writing about characters who garden in my books, to mimicking the leaves in book cover design, and teaching nutrition and mental health. It’s amazing how God allows one to inform the other. We’re seriously blessed!

How important is a woman’s role in the food justice movement?

Very critical because most of us women have the responsibility of feeding the family. When we’re faced with food deserts and other problems related to agriculture and nutrition, this can have negative reverberations not just in the family, but in the neighborhood and the surrounding community. We also know how to organize and get things done because we’ve been doing this in our own families for generations. If you combine food justice issues with family advocacy, you’ve got women on the front lines who can really make a difference in this movement. We women also have to be or become public policy savvy because this is the only way laws will change.

What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about farming for the first time?

Study and find a few mentors who can walk you through, but the main thing is to jump-in and get started. Also, the internet provides endless resources, so making time for yourself to just read and learn a lot is essential. Volunteering on someone else’s farm to get a feel for things is another good way to test the waters. You can also find free community programs and workshops to attend. Just break-out your iPad and learn as much as you can during a nice, hot 90-minute soak while someone else watches the kids (bath caddy, bath pillow, avocado Epson salt, and glass of wine required!).

What encouragement can you give someone who is starting their own business?

It’s important to study the industry in which you want to enter, but because we can get caught-up thinking things to death, it’s best to jump-in and start doing the work. This will build your confidence and your portfolio in a very short period of time. I started my business when I was a 26 year-old single mother with two small children. Under these circumstances, I found that anyone can do anything they set out to do. Quitting does not exist; we don’t have time for excuses. Get to working and networking now. Outsource what you’re not good at. Don’t think about it that much, just do it.

Any advice for young African-American people who want to get involved in farming?

Yes, first look at the most successful farming operations to see what they are doing, copy that, and put your personal spin on it. Businesses are successful because of the leadership behind them and the innovations they bring to the marketplace regardless of color. African-Americans do need to develop their own support systems, however, but the mechanics of the business do not change. Money is green. Go get the money, start getting grants and selling your products. It’s important to build cultural networks and resources, and it’s equally important to stay in business for a long time by employing best practices and amazing management skill and techniques. Superior produce and innovative products will sell themselves, and the internet levels the playing field for everyone.

Any advice to women who farm on how to support one another?

Networking and social groups for women farmers are amazing! You really need the support because you may love what you do, but not everyone understands from where you are coming. When you can surround yourself with like-minded individuals and have fun while you’re at it, that is what life is all about! If such a networking group does not exist in your area then start one. From swapping ideas and vegetables to developing a children and animals babysitting co-op amongst the group members, it’s all right there at your fingertips!


Learn more about Kristene and how to contact her:

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