Stay tuned in three weeks to hear LaChaun's conversation withKesiena Onosigho one of Gist’s fiber artists in residence for 2022. In their conversation they talk about Kesiena's Weaving Skies project, which is an Outdoor Weaving Exploration, that combines Kesiena's love of nature and textiles to explore sustainability, community, and weaving.
Michelle Brooks, Founder of Stitchering Shop
LaChaun Moore, Founder of nnia farm.
Maturing brown and green cotton plants and gourd vines, nnia farm, September 2022.
Young brown and green cotton plants, nnia farm, July 2022
Flowering brown cotton plants, nnia farm, August 2022
Maturing Brown Cotton Plants, nnia farm, September 2022
Overgrown gourd vines and indigofera suffruticosa, nnia farm, September 2022
One of two indigofera suffruticosa patches, nnia farm, September 2022
Maturing Birdhouse Gourds, nnia farm, August 2022
Sarah Resnick: I’m Sarah Resnick.
LaChaun Moore: And I’m LaChaun Moore.
Sarah Resnick: And we are the hosts of the Weave Podcast, a project of the weaving yarn shop, Gist Yarn & Fiber.
LaChaun Moore: Hello. Hi, everyone. It’s great to be back with a new episode. For this week’s conversation, I’ll be switching roles to give an update on my farm and fiber practice. I have the pleasure of being interviewed by Michelle Brooks of the Stitchering Shop. You may remember Michelle from episode 110, where we talked about her practice creating custom textile art pieces using a variety of fiber making techniques, such as tufting, embroidery stitching, and weaving. Michelle is currently trying to get back to the land with hopes to learn more about sheep farming and spinning and dyeing practices, and we had such a great conversation catching up, as well as comparing some of our experiences as fiber artists, and I’m excited to share this episode with you all.
Michelle Brooks: Hello, LaChaun.
LaChaun Moore: Hi.
Michelle Brooks: How are you?
LaChaun Moore: Pretty good, pretty good. No complaints.
Michelle Brooks: That’s good. Good to hear. I’m very excited to continue this Contextualizing Textiles conversation. I know it’s been a little while since the second iteration of the series, so I did hope that you’re alright with kind of recapping your fiber art journey, both for me and for folks listening who might not have either caught the first two episodes, or it’s been a little while, and I’m also interested in what led you to exploring farming practices in a more in depth and intentional way, and if it’s something that began either during or as a result of your time at Parsons. I know we’re kind of diving right in, but how does that sound?
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. I mean, that’s the best place to start. I feel like as time has progressed, my sort of I guess origin story has evolved, because I feel like the more that I’ve done the work, the more things have become more apparent to me, things have started to stick out in my journey. Even if I were to talk about this moment right now, which I know we’re gonna get into a little bit later, I just moved back to South Carolina and I’m in Charleston, which Charleston is kind of the area where the plants that I’ve been talking about since the beginning of this podcast originated, and the culture of people that I’ve been interested in researching come from, and to be here now and to think about those early years really kind of puts a lot of things into perspective for me.
I always tell people that this journey was very intuitive. I kind of just was very curious in the beginning and kept following my curiosity. So, when I went to Parsons, I was interested in studying design. My first application was to apply for the fashion program, and I had missed the application deadline by I think a week, and I didn’t know that they didn’t have… I think it’s called rolling admissions.
Michelle Brooks: Yeah.
LaChaun Moore: So, I had to go to the office, and I was almost like going there with tears in my eyes, almost begging, like, “Please. I worked on my application. I want to go in.” And I was talking to the person, and they said, “You know, it sounds like you’d be interested in integrated design.” And I was like, “What is that?” And then I looked up the alumni page and the work that they were doing, and I was like, “This is exactly what I want to do, and this is exactly what I want to be.” And I remember previously my roommate telling me about the program when I would describe to her what I wanted to do. She would say, “You should look into integrated design. You should look into integrated design.” And I would kind of write it off because I was like, “No, I want to study fashion.”
I ended up applying to that program, and I got in, and the basis of that program as I have come to understand it is you have a goal, and you learn a series of skills that help you to get there. And so, it’s a program that requires you to at a really basic level kind of know what you want, and also decide the things that you want to get out of it, and that’s how this whole journey really began. Like first, it was a dream, or a concept. It was like cotton is this fiber. It’s this cultural… It is something that exists within Black American culture that carries stigmas, that carries weight, that carries history, that carries meaning. It’s a very, very weighted fiber. Very weighted material. And it also acts as a euphemism. It’s also in so many sayings, like it’s… A lot of times, you’ll hear people say things like, “Oh, I’m not going back to the cotton field,” or, “We’re not in a cotton field anymore.”
It has so many meanings and it means so many things, and so it started out as just me thinking about it, and thinking about it, and as it transitioned from a concept to a reality of something to pursue, it just kept growing, and growing, and growing, and growing. By the time I was in classes, and I was learning about natural dyes, and hand spinning, and hand weaving, and zero-waste garment construction, I was really becoming curious about placing all of these things into a cultural narrative, placing all of these things into my personal narrative. What does indigo dye mean to me as a Black American woman? What does cotton mean to me as a Black American woman? What does sourcing cotton and indigo in the U.S. mean to me as a Black American woman? What does it mean to me sourcing it from India? What does it mean sourcing it from Guatemala, or another Latin American country, or an Indigenous group?
I had all of these questions, but I felt like I wasn’t finding answers in class. I couldn’t particularly relate to my classmates or my professors. More often than not, I was the only Black person in class, or if I wasn’t the only Black person, I was the only Black American person, meaning that there were… I had friends who were Nigerian. I had friends who were Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latin, and we can come together and understand each other on a lot of things, but there are also a lot of cultural differences, especially when it pertains to fibers and fiber production within the U.S.
And that is where Contextualizing Textiles comes from. Contextualizing these textiles.
Michelle Brooks: Yeah, and I am curious if you were outside of the fiber program at all. I know that that is Gist’s focus, obviously, and I know it’s your focus, but it is an expensive medium, too. I feel like there is sort of a kind of a high barrier to entry, so to speak. I mean, looms are really expensive. If you’re getting natural fibers, that’s really expensive. So, I wonder, I’m curious how much of that kind of otherness that you were feeling as the only Black American woman is department based, perhaps? Or is it just Parsons in general? I know that’s an expensive school, as well. Are you open to talking about that a little bit? Have you thought about that in terms of how that also… I mean, you were drawn to this practice for a reason, as well, but I feel like there’s a lot of complexity with fiber even on a basic level, I would say.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah, so just to kind of backtrack a little bit, I transferred into Parsons from another school, so I started at Parsons as a sophomore, so I didn’t do foundation year. And I studied at two schools before I got to Parsons, and what I gathered from the two schools that I went to previously was that I wasn’t gonna get what I needed to get to the places I needed to get to in order to get to my end goal. So, my decision to go to Parsons was strategic and I was also a little bit more mature because I wasn’t going fresh out of high school.
And I understood walking into it I’m going into this space, I’m probably gonna feel like an outsider. I’m probably gonna feel uncomfortable at moments. It is very expensive. And that’s why I was saying before that I was very strategic about going there and getting what I needed out of the program. I mean, the best way I could describe the financial aspect of everything is really finesse. I finessed my way through school as far as finding materials, and using materials, and being able to afford the program. I mean, while I was in school, one of the things that you need just to start is a MacBook and I didn’t get my first MacBook until after graduation. So, I was going to school to get my projects done.
And fabric, I would just make use of fabrics that were available. A lot of the materials that I used during thesis or for my projects were recycled materials or I would work in muslin. I would dye with muslin. I would use bed sheets. I would do so many things and it’s kind of funny, because I say that and then some people would think, “Oh, this is sustainable.” But this is kind of that moment where sustainability and context kind of come together, where it’s like, “Yes, it was sustainable, but also it was resourcefulness.” This was me doing what I had to do to get the things that I needed to get done.
And that’s another thing also, too. I think that really made me start to think about contextualizing a lot of the things that I was learning in a way that made sense for me and people like me, because sustainability in the marketable sense, in the way that it is… I don’t want to say greenwashing. I mean, greenwashing absolutely exists and that is another conversation, but it’s like when people think of sustainability they think of neutrals, and browns, and green, and no plastic, and there’s a look of sustainability, and there’s a part of that that needs to be anchored in social sustainability and equity, as well. And so, there’s a barrier of sustainability when it comes to the price point of a lot of things.
This is something too that I’ve also had to investigate to try and figure out how all of these things work, and I haven’t gotten to the space where I feel like I’m comfortable and I understand exactly how to articulate what I mean. I don’t know if that’s making sense where I’m going with this.
Michelle Brooks: No, definitely. I feel like it sounds like it’s more of a necessity, or it was more of a necessity, especially when you were in school, than like the cool thing to do. It was-
LaChaun Moore: Right.
Michelle Brooks: I feel like I’m sure it influenced your practice, but it also, I imagine, probably constrained it in some ways, because you could only use what you could find, or that was the main goal, to keep things affordable. I feel the same way. I’m always going to our… We have a place called The Waste Shed in Chicago where people will actually donate art supplies, and oftentimes they’ll donate just kind of pounds of fiber, too, which is great, but they may not have the colors you want. They may not have exactly… I’m always looking for alpaca yarn. They may not have alpaca yarn. You just have to kind of use what they have if you want to… I mean, I really try not to buy anything new, especially in a big box store that is doing who knows what with their dye practices, et cetera. I feel like I know even vintage yard, they might be doing something that are a little questionable, but oftentimes we’ll find things that are more organically sourced if it’s not just this big box thing that you’re trying to get multiple skeins of.
But yeah, I hope that makes sense. It’s kind of a ramble. I could talk about yarn all day.
LaChaun Moore: No, it’s so true. It’s so true. Because I think sustainability is so much deeper than what a lot of sustainable initiatives and movements will have you believing it is. It’s so much deeper. And also, what is the practicality of the sustainable… of sustainability in the way that they are putting it out? Where’s the practical nature? How do we actually enact this and is it inclusive? And also, what is the language we’re using? And that’s something that I didn’t have back then, or even maybe four or five years ago. I had to find myself in this space because when I graduated, I was kind of into that, like when I graduated I was kind of conditioned into thinking that way. And once I was outside of that environment, and in spaces that were familiar to me, I had to reel back a bit and really have a lot of questions. It was almost like I had to… It was like a code switch almost. It was like, “Okay, I learned this, and I was around this,” and in a way it’s like a box, thinking within this box, and these parameters, and you get used to it.
But then when you get out of that box and you get into the real world, or your personal reality, it’s a little different, and that’s kind of why I’ve stepped away from or you won’t see me speaking specifically about sustainability in that way. I try to be neutral because I realize that sustainability also has to be sustainable, and what is sustainable for me might not be sustainable for another person. And I think that a lot of times when we get caught up in infographics, and all of these different things that are out there that raise awareness, advocacy, I think that it can be a deterrent. It can alienate people.
Like I remember one time having a conversation with a good friend who works in food justice, and food sovereignty, and they were saying we need to take the word clean eating out of food, because it implies that people who don’t eat this particular way are eating dirty, and people are eating what they can eat. People are eating what they can afford. And I don’t think people realize how much, and it’s unfortunate in this country, this country that is America, it’s unfortunate that organic fresh fruits and vegetables are a privilege. It’s unfortunate. But that’s a reality.
And so, I’m still trying to figure that part out, and also how that translates into fibers and textiles. It’s like I don’t want to demonize people who support fast fashion because they don’t have options.
Michelle Brooks: Yeah. I feel like it’s always a journey. I’m curious too, I know after Parsons you eventually… You did have land in Lowcountry, South Carolina, that… I don’t know if that was right after you graduated or if you could kind of explain how that came to be? And then I’m curious what happened to those crops that you had started growing. I believe it was indigo, and were you growing cotton, as well?
LaChaun Moore: Yes.
Michelle Brooks: Yeah. Can you speak to that a little bit?
LaChaun Moore: Yeah, so after graduation, so also going back, just to kind of make sure that everything makes sense, because it’s kind of… It can seem like jumps if I don’t connect everything. But while I was in school my senior year, I actually ended up having to work full time because I had issues with financial aid and things, and so my full-time job was working at a farmer’s market, and the farmer’s market, if anyone’s familiar with New York City farmer’s market, I worked at the Union Square Greenmarket. I was a market manager. And I volunteered with them for years in the stop and swaps, which is a program where people would take their clothes, and their housewares, and then donate them, and then people would go and take what they needed for free, and it was a good event. It was good energy. It was good people.
And someone had mentioned to me, “You should apply to be a market manager.” So, I applied, and so I managed a couple different farmer’s markets in Manhattan, Lower Manhattan, and I had one in Midtown Manhattan, and that was for a couple years. And so, I did that senior year up until the end of graduation. Excuse me, up until I moved to South Carolina. And one of the things that I learned about while working at the program was the Farm Beginnings program, which is a program that was for beginning farmers. It was a holistic farm planning course. They taught us about farm management, and all of the sort of administrative aspects of starting a farm and planning for a farm and a successful crop, and planning for profit.
And once I finished that program, I moved to South Carolina.
Michelle Brooks: So, how did you find land that you could use? Because I know that’s another barrier to entry. Some families might have land that they’ve either… I don’t know the right terminology. They’ve been grandfathered or something, or it’s been passed down from generation to generation. But I also know… I mean, speaking of the history, especially of Black Americans in this country, they might have had land at one point, but it might have been either taken away… I feel like there’s kind of a stigma, as well. My dad is Black, and my mom is Italian, and my dad, he’s always like, “You want to visit a farm and learn about dyeing and sheep shearing?” He doesn’t understand. It’s very kind of like a menial rudimentary thing to him. It’s not… It would never be a hobby.
And people are different, and they have different interests, but I feel like it’s deeper than that. I feel like there is a real desire among a lot of people of color to really distance from that kind of lifestyle because it’s so steeped in so much pain and atrocity, and it was for so long, that I think those wounds are kind of cemented even in someone’s preferences, I would say. I still don’t have the right terminology for it because me personally, I don’t agree with my dad’s distaste for being outside. But I think there’s something to that, as well. That was a very long tangent to get back to how you ended up back on the land, but I feel like we started talking about that a little bit and that’s part of it too. I wanted to circle back.
There’s a question and a statement in there and you can kind of decide where to take those.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah, so this kind of relates to me being curious and just allowing the journey to take me. So, I kind of grew up in a circle of women who really leaned on each other, and my very, very early years, I grew up around a lot of other Black kids, and we were in this kind of Afrocentric circle, and it was really beautiful, and it’s still very beautiful. That’s where Nia comes from, Nnenia, my middle name, and all these other things. My very close… My mom’s very close family friend had a friend who she introduced to my mother who was talking about how she had a house and land that was handed down to her from her mother, and she was living in D.C. at the time, and the house was down in Lowcountry, and she eventually wanted to move back to the land, and she wanted to do some sort of a situation where she was growing things, and also kind of like creating the sort of holistic lifestyle type of a vibe.
I don’t know how to really explain it. She herself was a healer. She did Reiki and all of these really beautiful practices. And we met, and we connected, and she was like, “Yeah, if you want to come down and see the land and grow, you can.” And I was so kind of burnt out and exhausted going from graduation, and working this full-time job, and continuing on with this job that was adjacent to what I wanted to do but wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. Also, New York City is just a really, really hard city. Barely taking care of my mental health and my physical health. Just really kind of surviving on the desire to make this dream come true.
And here was this woman who had this amazing opportunity, and I was just like, “I’m ready.” I didn’t go see the house. I didn’t go see the land. She showed me some pictures and I was like, “This is it.” And you know, looking back at it, I probably should have done things a little differently, but you know, you have… The naivete is what makes things happen because I truly believe anything is possible. It might not look exactly how you imagined it in your head, but I truly believe that with time, and energy, and effort, you can make anything happen. And I just understood that this was just a step that was a necessary step regardless of how it turned out.
And for the most part, it was a really great step, and a good opportunity, and a moment that I needed because I think aside from just my farming journey, I needed stillness, and I needed quiet, and I needed to heal. I went from Harlem, New York City, all of these experiences that I had, to a tiny town kind of off the road in this community of people who were just living. And although I wasn’t related to them, they felt like family. To this day, they feel like family. You know, I loved my neighbors. I call my neighbor uncle. I call him Uncle Ronald. And he was so helpful.
And so, yeah, that’s kind of how that happened. And it just turned out that it wasn’t the best situation for what I wanted to do for a series of reasons. It’s just kind of how things go. But it was an amazing moment and an amazing opportunity, and I’m so grateful to have it, and grateful for the space that I had to learn and to grow.
And I know you had more questions, so I’ll let you kind of ask what you’re still curious about within that whole.
Michelle Brooks: Yeah. Well, I know you’re now going to be still in South Carolina but in Charleston. I think you had said Johns Island. Is that right?
LaChaun Moore: Yes.
Michelle Brooks: So, are you able to collect some of what you were growing in Lowcountry and bring it to where you’re going to be? And what is this kind of second iteration of this land going to look like? Or this land journey. Second iteration of this land journey going to look like.
LaChaun Moore: Yeah, so the first journey was smaller, so it was about an acre’s worth of land, but I wasn’t growing on all of it, and you can see pictures, I believe, in episode 27, which is when I did the part two when I showed pictures of what I was growing. I was definitely ambitious in the amount of things that I was growing. I also at the time had more free time, so I was able to be more hands-on in the beginning, but I was growing birdhouse gourds and luffa gourds. I planted like four types of watermelons, which is a huge mistake. Don’t ever do that. If anyone ever wants to do it, and it was in row too, and the watermelons just took over the whole plot. They grew and grew. And I only ended up being able to harvest like three good watermelons.
Michelle Brooks: Oh, no.
LaChaun Moore: It was a mess. And so, I think halfway through because they were encroaching on the space so much, I ended up just having to pull them up. But I grow… I grew, excuse me. I grew Acadian brown cotton and Sea Island brown cotton. I also grew green cotton from Oaxaca, Mexico. So, the green cotton from Oaxaca, Mexico, and the Acadian brown cotton were gifted to me from Sharon Donnan, who was also on the podcast, and I got the Sea Island brown cotton and I believe green, the other variety of green, which was Gossypium hirsutum, it’s like a hand spinner’s cotton, from Southern Seed Exposure.
And I also grew pea flowers, and then of course Indigofera suffruticosa, which was in a separate plot and more concentrated amount. There’s a lot of plants that I didn’t even count how many plants it was because I broadcasted the seeds, but it was a lot of indigo. And I learned a lot. I learned a lot. And so, in that learning, I’ve taken that experience and put it into scaling up, so now I have access really to like… I don’t know. Maybe 10 or 15 acres. But I’m starting with one because I am one person, and it’s on Johns Island, and the field is tended to by Mr. Joseph Fields, who is a very well known Black organic farmer, or organic Black farmer. I don’t know how to say that but it’s important that people know that he’s a Black farmer and his farm is organic.
It's on Johns Island. Anyone who knows the Charleston area knows that Johns Island is where farms are and some of the best produce from the state, or from Charleston, comes from a lot of beautiful farms, and Johns Island is also just a beautiful island in general.
Michelle Brooks: That’s amazing. Wow, so that’s 10 times or even more than 10 times the space that you had previously, so you’re starting with one and each year are you going to expand a little further? Or even within a single growing season would you be able to kind of add to your one acre if time and space and energy and the weather and everything else allow for that expansion?
LaChaun Moore: I’m hoping to, but I think one of the things that I learned even in my smaller, more experimental phase, size really doesn’t matter as much as concentration and use of space does. And that’s also something I learned, and that could be like the New York City urban gardening experience in me, like I was working at community gardens and things like that. Did a lot of… I know a lot of northern farmers and I’m very familiar with that type of farming. It’s different down South because there’s more space, and so I think because people have more space they use it.
But even if you look at the farms on Johns Island, the actual grow space is no more than like 10 to 15 acres, which is a lot to maybe like a Northern farmer, but to a Southern farmer, you know, farmers have hundreds and hundreds of acres. But the farms that I saw that were really successful grew on maybe one and two acres. They just had a really, really… They really optimize their grow space and optimize their personal… how do you say? Personal efforts. And there are a lot of things that make growing on a smaller scale good for a type of production, because for one, less employees, so you can focus on building a team, and a good team. You can pay people better.
It's also inherently more sustainable because you’re not cutting down more trees, tilling more land, and it’s easier to keep things in check. It’s easier to keep control. You know, if you see something break out like a fungus, or you start seeing a bug or something on an acre, that’s way more manageable than something that’s gonna spread through 10 to 15 acres. And so, I’m kind of just gonna see how this season goes, and then decide from there. I think at best I would grow to maybe five acres, but I don’t anticipate I would need that much, like much more than that for what I’m interested in producing.
One of things that’s great about indigo is that you harvest it, you extract it, you dry it, and then you have a pigment that lasts for a very long time under the appropriate conditions, and you know, potential… There’s potential to be the same for brown cotton because it is, and I know this from my personal experience, it is to a degree very pest and mildew resistant. I mean, I haven’t… The cotton that I’ve harvested, I just have it, and have had it for years at this point. I think the oldest cotton I have is maybe three or four years old that I grew, and it’s fine. And I’m not storing it in a storage container with low moisture. It’s just in bags in containers.
So, there’s a lot of potential there for that, but…
Michelle Brooks: That’s actually a perfect segue into another question I had, which is kind of a deep cut. I think it was in your first conversation with Sarah, which I listened back to both of them before this interview, obviously, but you had this idea of this either seed to fabric or seed to cone kind of brainstorming you were doing, where people would be able to buy what you had grown, and it wouldn’t just be for personal use. So, I selfishly am very curious about that, because I would love to buy cotton in any of its forms from you, but are there plans to do that in the near future or the distant future coming up?
LaChaun Moore: Yes. So, right now, I guess I can share my goals with you all for 2022 and 2023. What I’m thinking of doing now is doing a line of indigo dyed yarn.
Michelle Brooks: Oh my gosh.
LaChaun Moore: I know, right?
Michelle Brooks: That’s so exciting.
LaChaun Moore: I’m saying this on Weave Podcast to a bunch of yarn-
Michelle Brooks: You’re gonna be flooded.
LaChaun Moore: To a bunch of yarn influencers and yarn enthusiasts. Yes. That’s the goal. And I’ve done the numbers, and I’ve kind of figured out how it’ll be possible. It will be indigo dyed yarn, not yarn that I have made from my cotton. I haven’t gotten to that point yet. But I would like to most likely purchase one of the in-house yarns from Gist and then hand dye it with indigo, and kind of start that way as a value-added product to help me to afford to expand, and to hire employees, and to begin to get into the steps of getting to the point where I can then go to a mill and say, “Hi, I have this amount of cotton that I would like to process into yarn.”
You know, there’s so many steps into getting there, so I realize that this is a very, very long process that has very many iterations, and the short-term goal is to start with indigo dyeing. I do want to have my own line of goods, but I’m also not rushing it because I want it to be correct. You know, like I want it to feel good. I want it to be good. And I want it to be as close to my personal morals and goals for what I want garment production to look like, and so it just takes a lot of time and a lot of learning.
Michelle Brooks: I think that’s great. I also… I feel like kind of taking things slower, too, with my own personal project this happens also. The slower I go, the more I kind of shift as part of that process, or things will become apparent to me that I didn’t foresee happening, or didn’t even know about when I started, so I feel like I do this with a job search. I do this with where I’m living. It’s like I have a sort of loose structure of things but it’s malleable. I think that is a great way to start really any process, because you don’t know everything ever going into a new project, so that kind of ability for other things to seep in and influence as you’re going I think is great.
And it’s I think more manageable, because you’re not starting with the 100 things you have to do, and they’re set in stone. I feel like people just burn out if they try to do that. It’s not a sustainable practice. So, yeah.
LaChaun Moore: Right now, I’m like pretty much in the farming phase, and once I get this season under my belt, next year the goal is to rent a studio and have some form of studio atelier type of situation where that’s where I can process, and that’s where I can showcase, and have people visit, and see the things I’m working on, and also again hopefully hire some people, because I do need help. But that is the sort of short-term and most immediate goal that I have.
And it is a version of that early idea or that early goal. It’s just a much more realistic version of it, I would say.
Michelle Brooks: Yeah. I mean, you also… I think you had recorded that podcast, I don’t know how many years ago now. Four or five? So, a lot has happened since then too. Yeah.
I am curious also to go back to the farm in Charleston. How did that relationship with Joseph Fields develop? How did he come into your sort of awareness? Or was there someone that knew him who knew the two of you and kind of connected you that way?
LaChaun Moore: Yeah, so pretty much all of… Let me see. It’s 2022, so pretty much all of 2021 I was in land search, because I moved all of my things out of Ridgeland. Excuse me, not Ridgeland. Out of Pineland, 2021, like February, and so all of that year I was just kind of in a weird space where I was like, “Maybe I just want to go to Northern California.” You know, like really, like this is a time to really uproot if I’m ever gonna uproot and find somewhere where I can stay for a long period of time.
And 2021, so last year, was when I also applied for the Braiding Seeds Fellowship, which is a fellowship specifically for farmers of color, Black farmers, Indigenous farmers, and I luckily was selected, and it’s been an amazing opportunity. It’s hosted by Soul Fire Farm if anyone knows about Soul Fire Farm, but they’re an amazing farm that is in Upstate New York and the founder or the co-founder, Leah Penniman… Leah Penniman wrote a book called Farming While Black, which is also a great book to read, and it’s also been really helpful to me in this journey.
And through the contacts and being connected with the fellowship, I was able to see a lot of different plots of land owned by Black farmers and also people who had land handed down to them, and I wasn’t really finding anything that was exactly right, and I reached out to someone who I would consider to be one of my farm mentors, farmer mentors. Her name is Bonita Clemons. I believe I mentioned her on the podcast before, but she’s really just a phenomenal, phenomenal person, and she went, called a couple people, and she found Mr. Fields and she talked to him for me. And I went out to go see and meet him I think in January of this year, and he was like, “I mean, I don’t fully understand what you want to do, but you can have it. It’s yours.”
Michelle Brooks: Wow.
LaChaun Moore: So, I’m renting the land from him, and it’s… He’s been really helpful. He has a tractor and things like that, which is huge for scaling up because it is a lot of acreage, and so he’s run the tractor for me. That’s kind of how that happened.
Michelle Brooks: And what is he growing? And does he have a team of people, as well, that can help you? Or are you sort of taking this one acre on on your own? For now, at least?
LaChaun Moore: I’m taking it on on my own. I think that if I needed help, I could ask, but I think I’ll be okay. I know anytime I tell people I’m doing an acre by myself, they kind of gasp a little. They’re like, “What? How?” And I’m like… And I’m not gonna lie, this past week I started to doubt myself quite a bit as I’m getting nervous. It’s kind of like a farmer, like a seasonal farmer depression. I don’t know how to explain it.
Michelle Brooks: At the beginning of the growing season, though? And not-
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. Yeah. It’s like at the beginning and then usually around harvest. Those are the most stressful moments. And advice that I’ve gotten from other farmers is they say don’t make any harsh decisions during those times. And my… Sarah, who is one of the co-managers for my fellowship, she was telling me. She was like, “Trust your winter self. Your winter self said plant after April 15th. Don’t rush. Plant after April 15th.” Because I’m looking at the weather and I’m just like, “It’s just not hot enough.” It needs to be hotter. Because indigo, it’s very kind of temperamental. Like to get germination is really difficult if you don’t have the perfect… or the right. I shouldn’t say perfect. If you don’t have the right environment. And I learned that in my first season because I planted three times before I got germination, and I didn’t see germination until like May. I didn’t start to see anything come up.
And when it did come up, it was amazing. It was beautiful. And it just took off. It was like once Indigofera suffruticosa establishes itself, it doesn’t need much. It doesn’t even really need as much water once it’s established.
Michelle Brooks: I’m curious too. To be fair, I have family that is in Upstate New York, but they have… My aunt actually does have a few acres, but she’s not really growing on it. She has like some berry bushes. She has some turkeys. It’s not at all the scale that you will be on. But I do know from some of her neighbors they’ll have greenhouses so they can start planting, quote unquote, even though they’re not actually… the crops aren’t in the ground. And then they’ll move everything once it’s warm enough for things to actually be in their permanent home, in the soil. But I know that’s a lot of labor, as well. I don’t know if… Is that something you’ve done or have access to? Or is that just the kind of return on that human investment isn’t worth moving everything around?
LaChaun Moore: Yeah. And that’s what I’ve come to see it as, as well. I personally just prefer direct sow. Especially because of the area I’m in. I believe this is like zone 8B or something like that, and so for me, it’s not so cold that it’s necessary for this particular crop to greenhouse it, whereas if I was growing something else, I would definitely greenhouse it. Mr. Fields has greenhouses, and he grows lots of salad greens, strawberries, tomatoes, things like that, and so he greenhouses. But personally, for me… Excuse me. What I’ve learned is that transplant shock of plants, these plants specifically, the amount of time it takes for them to adjust to going from a tray to the soil is about the time I’m kind of pushing it off to plant direct sow, so it doesn’t really yield that much of a difference for me.
Michelle Brooks: And it depends on the plant, though? So, this particular-
LaChaun Moore: Yeah, so specifically for me, for indigo, and for the cotton, it’s not really… In my experience, it hasn’t been something that seems beneficial. And then for the cotton, once it establishes itself, once the boll develops and a frost comes, the frost will come and the leaves will die, and the plant will die, like it’ll start to dry out, but the boll will still be there. It’ll be fine. You can leave cotton on a field over winter. You just have to be mindful of the weather around. So, if it’s too humid and too wet, and it does get hot for some reason in the winter, then the seeds in the boll could start to germinate, and then you’ll have little cotton plants growing out of your little cotton plants.
But that’s highly unlikely if the frost comes and it’s winter. So, as long as you keep it dry, and down here there’s snow, you have that time to allow the plant to kind of hang out for a little bit.
Michelle Brooks: Yeah. I love these segues because speaking of hibernation and winter, the Weave Podcast in this iteration is kind of coming to an end as far as I understand it, so I’m curious about is this a hibernation? Will it come back? Or will it turn into the conversations you’re having with the residents since the residency launched this year? Can you speak to that a little bit too?
LaChaun Moore: There is potential. I can’t say for sure exactly what the podcast will turn into or if there will be another iteration where episodes will come out as frequently as they used to. I think Sarah kind of had her moment with the podcast where she stepped back a little bit and then I was the main host doing a lot of episodes, and then I think I kind of got to that same space that Sarah got to when she got to that phase, and it’s more so wanting to make sure that we are putting out quality content and having good guests. The podcast has a lot of episodes and we talked to a lot of people, and there might be some people that people think like, “Oh, why haven’t they talked to this person, or they should reach out to this person.”
But I’m pretty sure I’ve reached out to almost everyone in the fiber community and if they weren’t on the podcast, it could be that I just have a personal relationship with them that developed and they just weren’t interested in being recorded, or they didn’t answer, or they were busy, or life happens. And so, it kind of became something where I think we both think it’s best to kind of let it exist, and then if it resurrects, it resurrects. But time will tell.
And I’m really excited about the artists in residency program, and so far I think one person has chosen to do an episode, and so some of them are gonna do an episode and some of them won’t, but we will have things to post in the feed over time. It’ll just be kind of sporadic and I know that might not be… that might not satisfy a lot of people, but we’re doing our best, and Gist has grown a lot over the past couple years, so who knows?
Michelle Brooks: Well, I think that’s great. It’s great to hear that it will continue in some form. And I feel like especially with the rate of production on social media these days, I really treasure people that do kind of post things more sporadically, and it’s more intentional, and it’s not just the algorithm demands we must post every day at this time. I feel like a more organic approach to that is lovely. That’s a great thing to do.
And where can people follow along with your farm journey either on a blog, or Instagram? Are you going to be kind of creating an archive of sorts of your time on Johns Island?
LaChaun Moore: Yes. So, I know that this is probably gonna be disappointing to some people, but I do not intend to make an Instagram or do any heavy social media. I tried to do an Instagram I think a few years ago. Some of you may have seen it. It’s just a lot for me and it doesn’t fully align with my personality and kind of takes me out of the moment quite a bit. And I just have opted out of the social media life. I do want to share my progress and that’s something I’m figuring out how to do on another platform, so I am photographing, taking pictures. They’re more so documentation pictures because this is to a degree a farm experiment or science experiment, and I do intend to share all of my findings with people.
I just haven’t found the platform where I feel comfortable and excited to share on, but you can always email me. LaChaun at GistYarn.com.
Michelle Brooks: Well, this has been incredible, and so it honestly was great, speaking of archives, to go back and really trace the origin story of your origin story in a way. And I think it’s amazing that you’ve really given this project or projects time and space to grow, and you keep coming back to them in different ways, and it’s really inspiring, honestly. I’m so… I know we met technically on Instagram, but I’m glad I caught you while you were there, and I’m really appreciative we’ve been able to take our conversations out of the social media space, so I really appreciate it. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story.
LaChaun Moore: And thank you so much for making this such an easy, useful conversation. I appreciate your efforts, and your presence, and just… It’s just been great.
Michelle Brooks: I agree.
LaChaun Moore: That’s a wrap. If you’re interested in seeing some of my current farm images or to find links to connect with Michelle, you can visit the show notes at www.gistyarn.com/episode-144. On our next episode, which will be posted in three weeks, I will be speaking with Kesiena. Kesiena is one of Gist’s fiber artists in residence of 2022, and I’m excited to share our conversation about her Weaving Skies project, which is an outdoor weaving exploration that combines Kesiena’s love of nature and textiles to explore sustainability, community, and weaving.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for your continued support. Stay tuned for that episode. Until next time, happy weaving.
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