“I need to be farming. I need to be in the soil and doing this work.”
Amara Ullauri, a 2020 Young Farmers grant recipient, remembers the exact moment they made this realization: in a college class about the History of Food in Latin America. They come from a farming background – in Ecuador, they have family members who are citrus, cacao, and banana farmers.
“I grew up with the very stark difference between more diversified, more ecologically-friendly agriculture compared to banana monocultures that are controlled by global commerce, and I was acutely aware of the impact on my family. My family migrated to the states when I was five, and when I was in college there was something that just clicked.”
After this moment of realization, Amara started a farming apprenticeship at the Bushwick Campus Farm in Brooklyn and has since been farming in New York City and in upstate New York. They developed a particular passion for growing medicinal herbs and making plant medicine. Amara realized the healing potential of medicinal plants when they witnessed the positive impacts they had on the mental and emotional health of the students they were working with at an urban farm. Amara then created a DIY apothecary on the farm for students to drop in and take what they needed.
More than seven years after their initial call to farming, Amara is starting Amar(t)anto Botanicals, “a Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (QTBIPOC) centered cooperative farm that grows, shares, and teaches about medicinal plants and healing traditions.” True to its name, Amar(t)anto is rooted in love, reciprocity, and resilience. The name Amar(t)anto is a Spanish play on the words amar (“to love”), amaranto (or amaranth, the plant), and tanto, meaning “so much”.
The idea of amaranth representing resilience comes from its history as a symbol of colonial resistance. First cultivated in Mexico over 7,000 years ago, amaranth, a grain rich in protein, folic acid, and other nutrients, is a staple in the diet of many Indigenous Mesoamerican communities. The cultivation of amaranth was banned by Spanish colonizers in the 1500s as a means to prohibit religious rituals and subdue working class and Indigenous people. Those who did not follow this order had their fields burned, shaded, and cut down. Despite threats of violence, many Indigenous communities secretly grew this grain as an act of what Amara calls a symbol of “Indigenous resistance and resilience.”
“As a cooperative run for and by QTBIPOC, we formed to offer healing to our QTBIPOC community. We understand the realities and challenges our communities face in accessing dignified health care, nourishing food, housing, and economic stability. We believe healing and liberation are interconnected, ongoing processes that require undoing oppressive systems and cultivating reciprocal relationships with the Earth.”
Amara is using a portion of their Young Farmer grant funds to provide free solidarity medicinal herb boxes to QTBIPOC community members affected by COVID-19. The grant is also helping Amar(t)anto complete the necessary steps to create their LLC, form a cooperative structure, and fortify an initial operating budget so that members will not have to pursue off-season jobs.
Reflecting on how, amidst the uncertainty of the pandemic, this might be a time of calling for many others as it was once for them, Amara says that “I’m sure that there’s going to be a whole new generation, a group of folks coming out of the pandemic with a new sense both of urgency to work with the land but also with each other and providing the nourishment for each other.”