Survivor's Notebook

Survivor’s Notebook: Soilutions-Food Is Power

by Kasabez Maakmaah


This prescoot melon is the ancestor of the cantaloupe. It was grown in the Samples' garden. After it is eaten, the seeds can be saved to plant more next year.

“Through study of the history of man, we realized that most of the knowledge that we enjoy today was acquired through man’s interaction with nature…” said Julian Sample as we sat outside on a sunny fall afternoon. I was there to interview him and his wife, Kenya, about the garden that they raised in a vacant lot next to their house and their organization, Soilutions.

Julian and Kenya have always been close to nature and their families have a history of farming and gardening. Kenya recollects, “One of my earliest memories is fishing on a very calm lake with my father and my grandfather about 5:00 in the morning and I was complaining to them that my mom was gonna be mad that I’m missing church out here fishing and quickly, my grandfather told me that if I really wanted to be connected to creation, the universe, and really be in God’s church, then the first place I should be is outside.”

They were inspired to start Soilutions after, “We began to do research on the food that’s most available to us. After we realized the truth in regards to how the food has been corrupted, we decided to act upon that knowledge and to make sure the that food that our children, as well as my wife and I eat was the best possible food that we could grow,” Julian explained. Kenya added, “We have 5 children. In order to really feed the children, we need to be conscious about what’s going into their bodies.”

The Garden

This year, their garden fed their family and many members of their community. They grew a wide variety of vegetables in their garden: Black Aztec Corn, Goyokumba Eggplant (West Africa), Cherokee Trail of Tears Black Beans, Paul Robeson (Russia) tomatoes, arugula, kale greens, celery, potatoes and more. They only use organic, heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are seeds that have traditionally been saved by families, generation after generation, as opposed to hybrid seeds, which have been selectively bred for certain desirable traits, often sacrificing taste and nutritional value for shelf life and other traits that make the crops more profitable.

Julian and Kenya’s farming practices are inspired from organic and bio-dynamic practices that are more harmonious with nature. They gained a lot of their knowledge about farming during a summer of volunteering at a farm in Pembroke, Illinois in Kankakee county. Continued independent study and work with their connections in Pembroke and Chicago has deepened their understanding. Kenya says, “It has turned into a lifestyle change for myself, my husband and our children.”

Their practice involves a more natural approach to growing food. Unlike many local farmers, they plant their crops directly in the ground, as opposed to using raised beds. Many claim that the soil in the city is contaminated. They explained that the lot that they use has historically been used as a garden. The abundance of plant and insect life in the soil was evidence to them that the soil supports life. According to the USDA, the soil of Illinois is unmatched for fertility in the U.S. and equaled by only three other places in the world.

“It’s really about being in tune and relying upon as much of a natural process as you can,” said Kenya. The Samples said that they had high crop yield this year, even while allowing nature to do most of their watering. Additionally, Julian and Kenya made a promise to the land, that they would do no harm. They use no forms of pest control and they say that the worst incident they had was when a Rabbit ate one leaf from a plant.

Food is Power

“People are controlling our community with the food,” said Kenya. It’s becoming more and more well known that most of the health issues that are plaguing people of the colonized world are directly linked to a poor quality diet. Many communities in Chicago have become what are called “Food Deserts,” meaning that the fast food and junk food are much more available than fresh fruits and vegetables. This is one of the most important reasons for us to grow our own food. “The highest form of control that we can take back for ourselves is our food intake,” Kenya proclaimed.

For Julian and Kenya, the vision extends far beyond their own back yard. They are committed to making a positive change in the world, especially for black and indigenous communities. Julian explains, “We realized that you have to have a platform to use if you’re engaging the community and attempting to affect change. What better way to engage our youth and adults to make transformational positive steps than utilizing agriculture?”

One of the key platforms of Soilutions is education. “We’ve created a hands-on curriculum (for ages 5 through high school) that places prospective students and participants directly with nature, growing plants and vegetables,” said Julian. The curriculum includes English, math, science, social science, and physical development. The Samples plan to provide students with incentives by offering community service hours that students are required to complete for graduation. “There is an entrepreneurial portion that’s added as well that will allow students to realize that they can control the entire chain of production, from planting seeds to maintaining a crop until maturity, reaping the harvest, having children manage farmers markets, pooling funds for projects for next season and creating the environment where there is community interdependency,” Julian explained.

Ultimately, they want people to visualize a career for themselves in agriculture. We would like to see that people take this project and say, “’You know what? I think I want to go into beekeeping or I think want to make my own soap, or I can get into food distribution,’” Kenya explains; “We’d like to see our community doing soil testing, distribution, manufacturing, processing. We could create a job environment for ourselves, with our own health care.”

The Grand Scheme

“The grand scheme is to create an extensive network of interdependent individuals. That network would include independent urban farmers who may just have a private garden in their back yard, someone doing vacant lot conversion, or also apartment communities,” Julian explains, “Once you have all of these individuals growing, we want to coordinate for the produce to be gathered, centralized and distributed to participating communities. We will have farmers’ markets in those communities where the children and adults will be involved in managing.”

Besides their own garden, The Samples have made other con

nections to start gardens in other parts of the city. “We have one in specific, London Townhomes, that has a large tract of land available. We have elementary schools interested in participating in the program, they have land available also,” said Julian.

“Green lifestyle should be further defined as our natural way of life. Indigenous populations lived this way for untold number of years before adopting a western lifestyle.” Julian added.

Kenya illustrates the urgency of the situation, stating, “It’s an emergency, we need to be planting.” With the cost of food steadily rising and concerns growing about a possible global food shortage, the need for a backup plan to the grocery store is very real, especially in the city, where it’s estimated that, on average, there is about two days worth of food in stock in the grocery stores.

Get Involved

The opportunity to grow food in the city is much greater than what one might expect. “I saw the possibility, a working definition from Pembroke. I think we can take that working definition and apply it to our lives in an urban setting. We have tons of resources of vacant lots, all of the aldermen are really with it, there are tons of people who are ready for something like this,” Kenya explains.

For those who are inspired to create a garden in a city-owned vacant lot, Julian says, “We’re trying to create a template amongst all the people who become inspired and want to duplicate this process. In short, you have to get some political support, so local aldermen, tell them what you’re trying to do. Once the alderman gives you the approval, that’s pretty much it.” They also recommend getting support from local block clubs.

But the vision of Soilutions doesn’t stop at gardening. Through Soilutions, participants can take trips to Pembroke to take classes in processing and canning food, identifying wild, edible plants, making their own soaps and oils and much more. They will be exposed to organic farmers who are raising their own free-range animals, house building with straw bales and solar energy.

Julian says ultimately, “We’re trying to create both the self sustaining community of food growers in the urban setting to create a successful network for distribution, teach agriculture skills, create products, take control of our communities and take control of our futures.”

The road to where they are has not been easy. At some point, Julian gave up a job at one of the biggest computer companies in the world and, with Kenya at home to watch the children, he was supporting his family by delivering pizzas. If you ask if it was worth the sacrifice, their determination to follow through on their goals and their strength as a family will serve as evidence. For Kenya, “This is a preparation of our future, just to have some sort of future that we control.”

Julian offered these words of encouragement: “Let’s be leaders of ourselves and our own communities. Once you take on that philosophy, it will give you the inspiration to do things that may have never been done before. You can put your energy behind an original idea, or an idea that is not common. Take yourself out of the matrix and act upon your inspiration. I’ve come to realize that the future that we’re experiencing is based upon the actions individuals who came generations before us. So if we want the future to be different than the one we are experiencing, then we should take the initiative to begin to craft what we want the future to be.”

For those interested in finding out more about Soilutions, Kenya says, “I always invite people to call me freely on my cell.”  708-704-9213  708-704-9213

Pembroke Farmers

Black Oaks Center for Sustainable and Renewable Living –  (773) 410-3446  (773) 410-3446

Iyabo Farms – 944-5891

Basu Natural Farms –  (815)295-7357  (815)295-7357

B & S Youth Center & Academy  (815) 944-8000  (815) 944-8000

Recommended Readings

Soul of the Soil by Grace Gershuny

Unbound by Wangari Maathai

Prescriptions for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis and James Balch

Recommended Videos

Songhai Sustainability Project

One Man, One Cow, One Planet

The Secret Life of Plants


Myrck Sample poses next to ears of dried Black Aztec Corn to be used as seed for planting next year

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