Kate Daughdrill’s Burnside Farm is a Legit Garden of Eden

Last year I had the tremendous privilege of meeting a large group of artists as part of the Santa Fe Art Institute’s Equal Justice Residency. One of which is Kate Daughdrill, whose Detroit home doubles as an urban farm and art center. “It’s a place where art, plants, neighbors, and healing come together,” she describes.

Some of Daughdrill’s work at Burnside Farm consists of planting and caring for her garden and creating a grounded space where she and her community feel safe to connect to one another.

She discusses the need to feel grounded and attributes this need to our very un-grounded American culture, as most of us present and experience our lives through our minds — not our bodies or souls. We spend most of our time on computers, phones, driving, or inside, and rarely are we physically connected to the earth unless we’re lucky enough to make it to a beach.

It’s no surprise then, that Daughdrill is often barefoot on the farm, complete with a beaming smile that reaches across her whole being.

She notes that it is the personal, cultural, and generational traumas that make us not want to be present in our bodies, causing us to stay in our heads.

Her work counters this societal unease with happenings and gatherings that include community dinners made mostly from the plants grown in her massive garden, medicinal plant walks, musical performances, artists in residence, yoga, and ceremonial rituals inspired by the diverse community within the neighborhood.

This need for deep connectivity and communication grew from a project while she was a student at UVA. She used tents to invite people into a safe and intimate space and encouraged participants to write letters to their parents or Virginia Tech students (this was shortly after the shooting) as a means to connect with themselves while connecting outward and with others. Burnside Farm is similar in Daughdrill’s mind as she likens it to a “container for more intimate connections with our greater community.”

Daughdrill’s work is a cross section of healing, art, community, and gardening. Having originally sought to go into politics, she soon realized it would be a waste of her talents, and rather found art to be a profound medium of connecting with people. Her unique approach to art has been met with significant support and she is often asked to speak at events and conferences. In these spaces she uses meditative plants, nourishing food, and play to engage people who might otherwise not understand her practice. She describes this nourishment as the offering of a feeling that is connected to the earth which allows people to relax and become more present through experiences. People often trust the creative intentionality of artists, so she is able to create a space of openness and vulnerability with her audiences, which allows for deeper connections.

Spring is a time of renewal and cleansing, and after months of being cooped up inside, our bodies are in serious need of some spring cleaning. Daughdrill enjoys making various concoctions in her kitchen mixing dandelion roots with bubbly water and a dash of maple syrup to help cleanse the blood through the kidneys and liver. She also recommends cooking down the greens of the dandelion for a similar effect. Often, when creating these plant-based healing foods, she sets intentions with the dedicated use of the plant which further connects her and her community with the earth.

“What is growing during each season is what your body and soul needs at that time,” says the artist. She explains that the benefits we receive from plants are connected to the seasons in which they grow.

She has spent years cultivating the land and community of Burnside. And, while it’s rare to meet people that genuinely root themselves in one place these days, it is Kate Daughdrill’s grounded approach to life that is precisely what we all yearn for… yet often don’t even realize we’re missing.

Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.

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