farmer and educator
Organization: Ayeko Farm
Location: Enumclaw, WA
In her words…
“When I talk to urban folks of color about living in rural areas, I hear over and over again, oh wow, I would love to live out there – but I just don’t feel safe. If farmers of color could live in community, then we could keep each other safe and inspired. I’m ready to fight for that, because we have the right to live on the land. We have the right to wake up in the morning, let our kids run free outside, nestle our feet in the fresh soil and breathe in this fresh air… we have the right!”
What gives her hope…
Deepa thrives on positive feedback from community members who have visited her and felt the powerful pull of the land. Families who have spent a day on her farm, harvested produce, and cooked a meal in their kitchen have told her that because of the taste of the produce, with flavors that are so fresh, so vibrant, and very different from what they can buy in any store, they have already changed their eating habits, seeking out more fruits and vegetables and cooking more for themselves. And feeling welcome, safe, and supported in a rural community that puts folks of color at its center is a transformative experience.
Deepa Iyer wants to make rural America a safe space for farmers of color, bringing back the cultural and physical connection that BIPOC folks have historically had with the land that sustains them. On her 21-acre farm in rural Washington state, she and her family grow vegetables and herbs that ground her in her families’ food traditions: the rice fields of southern India for her, and rural agricultural villages of Ghana for husband Victor. Deepa’s dream is to share the experience of farming and rural living with other families of color. She’s starting with her own Pacific Northwest community, hosting events that bring people out from nearby Seattle to the farm to experience healthy food, community, and healing practices that strengthen and nurture their bodies and their connection to the land. As a naturalist and food systems educator with decades in leadership roles, Deepa focus supports other communities of color that wish to leave the urban environments behind and live their lives peacefully and safely in the rural U.S., something that has historically been afforded to White people. Deepa focuses her work on those who have trouble accessing land because of displacement or economic reasons by allying with other resilient communities that allow Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who are not in rural areas but want to be living closer to the land to feel welcome and physically safe in rural America.
Deepa and her family bought their Enumclaw property in 2018, and now are successfully growing many of the traditional foods central to their ancestors’ diets, such as roselle, okra, bottle gourds, and peanuts. As their community builds, their neighbors are starting to request specific vegetables and herbs that are difficult to find anywhere in the region and that are favorites of their local customers at the Tukwila Village Farmers Market. Challenged – yet inspired — by the Pacific Northwest climate and Indigenous wisdom, Deepa and Victor have built small greenhouses using organic agricultural techniques to grow culturally significant foods in the Pacific Northwest’s climate.