In 2017, Quinoa Soedsauer and Reynaldo Budhi’s lives looked very different. Soedsauer was living in Brooklyn, working at a barber shop, struggling to pay rent and feeling disconnected from life.
“I’d see the tulips coming up and all the flowers around, and I wanted to connect to this more,” Soedsauer said. “I want to be a part of the seasons and find a way to grow my own food. But I didn’t think I could do it in Brooklyn with the small amount of growing spaces available to people.”
Meanwhile, Budhi was living on the ecovillage Twin Oaks International Community in Virginia and was serving his community as the dairy farmer — a position he said led him to becoming vegan. Budhi earned a master’s degree in classical piano, had lived in cities his whole life, taught music, but he knew “there was always something missing.”
“I knew I didn’t want to live a regular life,” Budhi said. “I was like, ‘I got to do something, I need to connect.’ I always felt disconnected from my food, nature, the seasons.”
The two met that spring when Soedsauer was visiting their cousin. They bonded while installing a cattle fence, singing Beatles songs. Their first commonality was music: Soedsauer was a music major, too, but studied jazz saxophone. Their second commonality was a shared sense of disconnection.
Their resolution was farming.
Budhi already had some experience farming through the WWOOF program — World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Soedsauer had never farmed, so they spent a month on a farm in North Carolina, “kind of learning the ropes of how to do small-scale gardening that we really wanted to do.” They set a date, October 2017, that they wanted to start farming. They were between Long Island or Mississippi — Budhi grew up on Long Island and had already worked on some farms in Mississippi.
“We knew the cost of living would be lower, so we’d have a little more leniency in figuring out how to get the farm going and giving ourselves time to figure out what we were doing,” Soedsauer said. “It was an adventure. It’s a completely different culture, completely different world that we didn’t know about.”
It wasn’t just a culture shock for them because they seemed to be a bit of a culture shock to Mississippi, too.
“We were some crazy hippies coming from some commune in Virginia,” Soedsauer laughed.
They knew they were bringing a different type of farming with them, too. They wanted to be a regenerative, naturally grown, no-till, small-scale farm. They weren’t sure where in Mississippi they were going to farm, and they had some land opportunities fall through.
Eventually, they found their ideal landlords. They had a piece of property in Tupelo with a house and nearly an acre of land, and their farming ideals lined up perfectly with what the couple was trying to achieve.
“They were willing to let us figure it out on our own,” Soedsauer said, “and make the mistakes that we needed to make that first year.”
Which was perfect, because they made plenty of mistakes that first year. Outside of the learning curve, they also had to do a lot of work to make the land’s soil healthier.
“We don’t use tractors at all. We’re doing everything by hand,” Budhi said. “The basic premise of no-till is little or no disturbance of the soil in order to encourage the biological life.”
Trying to increase the soil’s fertility, they packed their gardens with mulches and wood chips, hoping to increase the soil’s saturation and the soil’s carbon, too. For regenerative farming, carbon is a gold mine; along with nitrogen, potassium, phosphorus, and the trickiest portion of all: the microorganisms that can’t be seen or tested for. To see if their soil’s fertility was improving, Budhi and Soedsauer would have to play the long game: Waiting to see an improvement from their crops. And with a resolve to never use chemical fertilizers, and taking “a very gentle approach,” the long game seemed even longer.
“The main idea is that we’re feeding the soil, not just the plants,” Budhi said. “(If) emphasizing feeding just the plants, the plants’ are the end-all product. But in more regenerative agriculture, we’re feeding the soil, which in turn feeds the plant.”
While trying to be gentle with the soil, they also had to take time to acquaint themselves with their gardens, too. On their farm, they have four gardens, and each comes with its own intricacies: One seems higher in calcium, some of the others they’ve had to combat a problem with over saturation, plus each garden seems to get a different amount of sun, too.
“It’s (been) a slow process of getting to know each,” Budhi said. “The details of each of our gardens.”
“Learning from failure,” Soedsauer said, and they both laughed.
One garden seems to have a particular problem with pests. Rabbits, specifically. Soil isn’t the only thing they take a gentle approach on: They do so with pests, too. Soedsauer said they hope by taking a “hands-off approach,” letting the pests have their way, their existence will bring in their predators, and it can all become a part of the cycle — this cycle reflects the overall meaning of Samsara, a feeling of being connected with the cycle of life, death and rebirth — and their decision behind their garden’s name.
“We want to try and allow the gardens to find their own equilibrium,” Soedsauer said.
The duo also plants flowers in their gardens, to attract the right types of pests, and to attract them to the flowers before their crops. Between letting the pests run their course and their soil treatments, they’ve seen the fruits of their labor pay off, and said their vegetables are already drastically better than during their first year of farming. They rotate crops, and each season they debate about what they’ll want to grow.
“One of the choices we make is: Do we grow stuff for money’s sake, or grow stuff for either the novelty or our love of it?” Soedsauer said. “We’re constantly trying to balance that.”
Soedsauer said throughout the year, Samsara Garden’s crops usually include: head lettuce, microgreens — “Reynaldo is insistent we grow as much broccoli as humanly possible” — beets, carrots, Swiss chard, pickling cucumbers, cabbage, kale, collards, tomatoes, garlic, onions and potatoes, and anything else they can think of — “we try and grow every other vegetable we can imagine.”
Soedsauer admits their partner is more patient with trying new crops, like spinach and cauliflower — “I don’t even want to grow cauliflower, not this year at least. I’m over it.” But despite the challenges they’ve faced and having learned from failure, they both reflected on how encouraging this whole experience has been. Budhi looks back at the first time their dinner was prepared only using things they grew together in their gardens, and says there’s a level of pride and satisfaction that is unmatched.
“When you first have success,” Budhi says, “It’s just, it’s so gratifying.”
They sell their vegetables to local restaurants and farmers markets, both mostly in Oxford. They said it’s been a long time since they’ve come home from the market with vegetables left over.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Soedsauer said. “Something changed last year, where I think people realized the importance of your local food producers. I think we’ve been struggling to meet demand ever since, like for certain things like microgreens, we’re at capacity. We couldn’t possibly grow more than we are, and we still can’t seem to meet demand, which is kind of a great thing.”
Because of the demand for fresh, local produce, they both agreed that Mississippi is the perfect place for new farmers to start out — there’s always a need for more vegetables. Soedsauer hypothesized that if they had started somewhere else, like Long Island, or Georgia or Florida, where some of Soedsauer’s friends and family are, they may not have seen as much success in a different area, because “maybe it could have been oversaturated.” But they also said they wouldn’t have grown to appreciate Mississippi the way they do now.
“Queer identity is something that is hard to navigate being farmers in a rural part of Mississippi,” Soedsauer said. “Deciding what to wear to the farmers market can be a challenge. We’ve felt nothing but welcome in Mississippi … I feel like Mississippi is ready to embrace (change). We’re cherished for diversity in Mississippi because the people in Mississippi see us and love us for what we are.”
But with their families closer to the East Coast, Budhi and Soedsauer have always known Mississippi was a stepping stone.
“This isn’t where we (plan) to stay forever, but we’re just so grateful we have experienced here,” Soedsauer said. “(Reynaldo) is very intent on planting some fruit trees as soon as possible. … (In Mississippi), we’re getting to hone how to start with just a patch of grass and turn it into a productive garden within a year, so that when we start over, we’ll know how to hit the ground running.”
When they get to wherever they’re going, somewhere closer to both of their families, the two plan on planting perennials and berry bushes, and of course, Budhi’s fruit trees.
“One of the things that really marks permanence is when you plant a fruit tree,” he said. “Because when you plant a fruit tree, you may not get anything for five to 10 years. (They’re) a marker of, ‘I’m here to stay.’”