Poppy Okotcha - Regenerative Activist & Permaculture Grower
Over the past few months we have been lifted and inspired by so many people’s passion and commitment to what they do, and their ability to share their experiences and empower others through doing so. Permaculture grower and regenerative activist Poppy Okotcha is one of these individuals. “Permaculture is hard to define because it is a collection of ideas that have been practiced by black, brown and indigenous cultures forever. These regenerative practices are only new to us because we got lost.” Poppy provides education, information and sanctuary for all those seeking to reconnect with nature.
Poppy talks about the importance of community in living in harmony with nature. She is, like us, optimistic that increased intersectionality in farming and horticulture will bring permanent and necessary change. Inclusivity and accessibility is crucial in our journey towards a healthier happier planet. Focusing on regeneration of society as well as our land is something we all need to shift our behaviours toward - ‘sustainability’ has become a buzzword that doesn’t reflect all that is required of us if we genuinely want to make change - we have done too much damage to our environment already so sustaining current practices is not an option.
Tell us about the beginning, how did your exploration into growing & permaculture begin, and why?
I could see things weren’t right. I grew up in South Africa and saw black people starving, I lived in the uk and saw obesity. As a child I saw monoculture farms covering the UK and was told they were unnatural. Again in South Africa I saw the result of mainstream agriculture in the destruction of soils. This was all when I was little.
Then when I was 19 I got ill and started to explore diet. I explored not only what to eat, but our relationship with our food and there by our relationship with the land, how that food is grown. Growing (be that farming or horticulture) which has the potential for incredible regeneration and creation is currently immensely destructive. This trickles down into access to healthy, nutritious food.
It did not take long to realise that human flourishing and planetary flourishing are totally connected.
As I dug deeper into regenerative growing practises and began my own growing, I found Permaculture. It’s basically a big pot of regenerative wisdom, all of which has been practiced historically all over the world, before being labelled as permaculture. So acts as a brilliant gate way into the world of regenerative living at large.
Who did you learn from, if anybody, and how? Did you find it easy to access information & growing communities?
To begin with no. I was quite isolated, I had ideas that I’d grown up with that I could research but that was it. I didn’t have a community around me to feed it. The internet and Youtube was where I plugged in for the info. Plus just learning through trial and error with the plants. Then I started to invest in second hand books. Eventually I started taking courses and joining community projects which is when I found the people. That changed everything.
The most inspiring person I learnt from was a man named Krishna, who set up a food forest in a community called Auroville in India. He had totally integrated with the local Indian community and the project was giving back. There was just so much abundance not just of food but also of human connection, beauty, diversity.
For him, he said, the point of life is to sow seed together, care for and harvest the plants, prepare food and then dance together in gratitude and celebration.
I’d now say to anyone on a journey into shifting their mindset and life… the first thing to do is start hunting for community. I think it’s the most important bit.
How does the process make you feel? Has it impacted the way you relate to other aspects of your life?
100%. The way I see and interact with the world, other people, clothing, travel... all of it, has been touched by a shift in how I see the human relationship with nature. To begin with learning all this wisdom about connecting to the land (that our ancestors once had and has been lost or scrubbed out by colonialism and capitalism) felt like feeling around in the dark. Snippets of information here and there followed by “aha” moments. But then it started to snow ball very fast. Like as the picture became more clear it revealed faster, I started to see that it’s all connected.
The destruction of the planet, the destruction of human health, the degradation of fellow humans and animals… it’s all linked. I started to see that as long as we deny that we are part of nature, as long as we see ourselves as somehow superior to the land, to one another, we will abuse one another and the earth. Be that through creating food apathides, drenching the soils in chemicals or deforestation. The idea of superiority divorces us from the land and each other.
How do the seasons affect your practice & your day to day, not just in growing, but in your own routines and physically too?
For me part of moving towards the relationship our ancestors had with the land, is tapping into the seasons. Our western, fast paced lives filled with artificial light and strict work hours and produce imported all year round, mean it’s so easy to forget the seasons exist at all.
Part of engaging with nature is learning the idea of destruction, rest and rebirth. Or autumn, winter and spring. Regeneration is required for sustainability. That feeds into how I care for myself mentally, physically and spiritually.
Foraging is a wonderful way to connect too to our home environment and read the land.
Do you work with anyone, and if so , what’s your relationship like with them, and how did it come about?
I'm working with an illustrator right now, she is totally inspired by the natural world. She is gentle and creates beautiful work. I love working with her.
We found one another through social media. Social media can offer incredible access to communities that we may not have around us physically. If used to share information and foster connection I feel social media is an incredible tool for revolution.
What kinds of characters do you encounter through your work?
A real mix. Most of the time I am the youngest, only black and one of a few females in a room when it comes to regenerative growing, or growing on the whole to be honest. I’m excited for the floor to open up more, for more young black women to dive into horticulture, agriculture, growing in general, and make a noise about it.
It’s happening already in the states… not so much in the UK. So that said, any young black UK based female growers who may be reading this, drop me a message!
What do you think is the most important thing everyone should know about permaculture? Do you find it easy to define?
Permaculture is hard to define because it is a collection of ideas that have been practiced by black, brown and indigenous cultures forever. These regenerative practices are only new to us because we got lost. So although compiling ideas into an accessible space is important for education, we must not forget to pay our respects to the ancestors whose dreams these ideas were and to the people who still today live gently, respectfully and in harmony… but many not have a platform to talk about it. Staying humble and unlearning a desire to claim ownership or precedence is so important… not only when it comes to working in harmony with nature but also when engaging with one another. Again it’s all linked!