Ash Carr is a farmer, herbalist, and photographer from Virginia. She works on a collective farm just outside Richmond, focusing on growing herbs and flowers, although her love of growth and new blooms has her constantly trying to grow new things each season. We got to spend time with Ash on her farm to see her practice firsthand as she balances motherhood with her full-time love of farming.
Where are you from? Where are you now and how did you end up there?
I grew up in the suburbs of Northern Virginia, I moved west to California after high school for a few years before I was lured back east by Richmond, Virginia. It was sold to me as a glorious black hole for creatives who want to eat really good food but never dress up for it — I wasn’t lied to. I’ve been here for going on 16 years; it is home now, and a community I’m immensely proud to be a part of.
What first got you interested in farming and what keeps you interested and motivated?
I like to use my physical body, and after more than a decade of self employment as an on-location photographer. I became weary of sitting in front of a computer for most of the day. What started as a backyard hobby quickly spiraled into a 1 acre production farm. I’m just a barely-born baby in my farming career, so there is still SO much to learn, finesse, and explore. I really enjoy research, observational record keeping, and (in some aspects) am a perpetual optimist, so I love the opportunity farming provides to try again. And again. And again. I’m just starting to find the sweet spot of what I like to grow, what I’m good at growing, and what folks are interested in buying. But I love the couple of beds I set aside for new trial crops, and I hope the thrill of seeing something new bloom, fruit, or produce seed never dims for me.
“I really enjoy research, observational record keeping, and (in some aspects) am a perpetual optimist, so I love the opportunity farming provides to try again. And again. And again.”
You grow flowers and medicinal herbs — do you practice herbalism in addition to growing them?
I’m a community herbalist, but I think that is a hat anyone can wear. Herbalism has always been for the people, and I don’t believe we need licensing or credentials to assign the title — have you brewed yourself a cup of chamomile tea lately? Rubbed some calendula or coconut oil into your skin? Sipped ginger ale or chewed some fennel seed for a bellyache? Burned an incense stick? You’re an herbalist too! Most of my plant medicine knowledge is self-taught and in response to trying to find balance in my own body, so it was incredibly cool to venture into herbs for pregnant bodies last year.
I focus mainly on growing approachable, food-grade herbs. I’m especially fond of plants that are safe for many bodies, and aren’t too dose-dependent, so that looks like nettle, milky oats and burdock, chamomile and ginger, loads of mints and fennel, and a lot of garlic.
“We can’t do it alone. We weren’t ever meant to.”
As a new mom, how has your expectation of what motherhood and farming would be like compared to reality?
Whew. I’ve been severely humbled in my experience thus far. I’m honestly a little embarrassed by how far off my expectation was from this new reality. I always thought I truly believed parenting was a full-time job, but somehow I tricked myself into thinking I was going to work that full-time job, continue my full-time job farming, miraculously heal from birthing a human, and learn how to wrap a newborn onto my back within just a couple weeks. Needless to say, that hasn’t all happened. I’m getting very good at accepting and asking for help, I double the time I need for most tasks, and I try to give myself a lot of grace — I’m realizing that transitioning into parenthood is such a death/rebirth process. It feels very much like a metamorphosis, and maybe one day I’ll get to be a parent butterfly or some fuzzy mottled Ma moth more likely — but right now I’m firmly in the liquified, dark chrysalis stage, where things haven’t fully come back together, and lots is still waiting to be revealed.
Maybe it's a little early for this question, but has farming taught you anything about motherhood or vice versa?
We can’t do it alone. We weren’t ever meant to. I farm on a collaborative space with 4 other incredible, strong, and brilliant farmers. Our three separate farms run independently from one another (Shine Farms + Real Roots Food Systems), but we collectively grow ¼ acre of vegetables together that we provide to the church that owns our land, which they put towards their food ministry programs. The other farmers and I co-bought a greenhouse, rent tools together, run a couple of pop-up markets together, and last year had a co-employee who split hours among all three farms. Farming is terribly hard on its own, and access to land, capital, markets, and information currently makes it even more inaccessible for new and first generation farmers. Many hands make for light work, and it also lets you get in a partial harvest if two of those hands are holding your baby. If it weren’t for the meal train our doula set up for us postpartum I’m not sure we would have made it out of the first 4 weeks after Lou’s birth. I’m super thankful for the hand-me downs and the book loans, the many, many carriers, baskets, wagons, and bouncers folks have given us so I can continue on my quest to find the perfect thing to be able to keep Lou close while I work.
Catch her IRL:
(Birdhouse Market @ 1507 Grayland Ave)
(River City Flower Exchange @ 4366 Sledd Ln, Mechanicsville, VA 23111)
(Pizza Bones @ 2314 Jefferson Ave, Richmond, VA 23223)
(South of the James market @ 4021 Forest Hill Ave RVA)
(Farmstand @ 4366 Sledd Ln, Mechanicsville, VA 23111)
(RVA Big Market @ Bryan Park, 4308 Hermitage Rd RVA 23227)
The Broken Tulip
Good Foods Grocery