Building Native Roots Farm Foundation: Interview with Courtney Streett '09
“Life is a funny thing and what we learn at Wellesley can resurface. And you never know when your life is going to take a turn. We have to be open-minded and go with the flow, as extremely difficult as that is. See where life takes you because it is a beautiful, wild journey.” Courtney Streett ’09
Rachel Carethers ’24 interviews Courtney Streett ’09, co-founder and President/Executive Director of Native Roots Farm Foundation (NRFF) on her experiences at Wellesley and how they informed her current work at NRFF, her relationship to nature, and her “beautiful, wild journey” from Wellesley. [Note: This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity]
What did you study at Wellesley College?
I double majored in Environmental Studies and Africana Studies. I always loved plants and working in the yard and growing fruits and vegetables and flowers and learning about gardening and plants from my older family members. And of course, there’s a farm that’s been in my family for a very long time that sparked NRFF. That’s on my dad’s side of the family. On my mom’s side of the family, my grandparents immigrated to the US from the Caribbean. They immigrated to Brooklyn and they had backyards off of their brownstones. And, they had mini farms in Brooklyn. They were growing tomatoes, callaloo, peppers, scotch bonnets, you name it. Flowers as well. Both sides of my family really tie me to the land and to horticulture. When I got to Wellesley, not gonna lie, I did not do so hot in ES 101, but it was something I really felt strongly about and a subject that I was passionate about, so I was like ‘I’m sticking with this.’ First semester is not the rest of my life, and so I stuck with it and here I am today! And the Africana [Studies] side...Wellesley was the first time I was ever able to have the opportunity to study my own culture and the African diaspora and I just jumped at the opportunity. I loved both of those majors and I spent a lot of time focusing on the intersection of them. That ultimately culminated in environmental justice.
Where on campus did you feel a sense of belonging?
I would say the greenhouses. My mom’s family was from the Caribbean, and my dad’s family does not do winter. I only operate when it’s above 70°F. So, to have the literal warmth of the greenhouse in a snowy New England winter or spring was just super comforting. And, to have the warmth of the people at the greenhouse including Tony Antonucci and Professor Kristina Jones; they're really just an incredible team and so welcoming. I really loved just being able to be in the greenhouse and just be in nature. Tony would come over and tell me about the swiss cheese plant or tell me about the various plants as he's making his rounds. It’s one of my favorite spots on campus.
How did working in the Botanic Gardens affect your experience at Wellesley and your experiences after you graduated?
My junior year, I did research with Kristina Jones, investigating whether plants are producing more flowers and seeds and are happier with non-organic or organic fertilizer. The evidence was clear; organic was the way to go. The fertilizer that we used in the experiment I use today still on my own land! The community in the Botanic Gardens and the greenhouses really made a huge difference and had an impact on me. Everybody there is incredibly kind, thoughtful, generous, encouraging and enthusiastic about what they're doing. When NRFF has land that we’re working on, and when anybody comes ready to get their hands dirty, I hope that I can be that encouraging and have those kind words and be the role model that they were for me.