Food & Nutrition: How one woman turned tragedy into a healthy new lifestyle

Jonae BrownUncategorizedLeave a Comment

On March 23, SEEDS in downtown Durham held an event with Chantel Johnson called “Gun Violence to Homesteading,” where she shared her story of survival that leads to her passion for homesteading in North Carolina.

Chantel Johnson
Photo courtesy of Off Grid In Color

Johnson is from inner-city Chicago. Her community was predominately black, high in crime, and lacked in resources. She mentioned the high risk of gun-related deaths in Chicago and also the lack of Level 1 trauma centers to assist in proper treatment for those with severe traumas like gunshot wounds. There was also a lack of trust in the authorities that they could turn to get the help they need. She shared that her younger brother, Richie, was a member of the community and did not have the cleanest track record. 

“There had been stories around the city of his gang affiliation and murders he had been involved in,” said Johnson. “Richie survived gun violence twice before…he came to me confessing his wrongs and all I could say was ‘I love you.’”  

She did not see the violence; all she saw was her brother whom she loved unconditionally. Richie was on the verge of changing his life around for the better when he was shot for the third time in 2013. He fought 15 months for his life before passing way in August 2015.  

Johnson shared gun violence statistics from her hometown of Chicago, in the United States and around the world. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute, there is an average of 393 million guns circulating throughout America. There are over 100-gun deaths every day in the US. These deaths affect a diverse group of people. However, Johnson emphasized black Americans are ten times more likely to die from homicide, just like her brother. Richie’s death pushed her into finding a positive way to cope. 

Johnson went from an everyday 9-5 lifestyle to full-time homesteading in 2016.  She began her journey in the rural countryside of North Carolina by building a “tiny home” and sharing the land with other farmers. This required leaving behind the luxuries she once took for granted to develop a new lifestyle of learning the fundamentals of gardening, farming, and utilizing natural resources for self-care and cleaning products.

Chantel Johnson
Photo courtesy of Off Grid In Color

Johnson quickly learned she had “no green thumb.” She found it harder to manage the constant upkeep and high cost of gardening and preferred to stick with raising animals. The cost was lower and required less effort. Unlike plants, animals instinctively know what to do to survive and look after themselves.  

The beginning was surreal to her. She discovered roosters do crow in the morning to wake you up and donkey calls are real things that happen on a farm. She also gave credit to YouTube for helping her learn skills like operating a wood stove. 

Focusing on the care of her mental and physical health, she chooses not to follow the lifestyle path of her brother.

“I think urban farming has a huge role in inner cities as a way to deter young folks away from negative activity…to deter people’s suffering and mental issues to do something more creative with it,” Johnson said in an interview with The Durham Voice.  “And I think urban farming has a good place in growing food and healing minds.”

Johnson is supported by her community with donations and words of encouragement to continue her hard work. She expressed that, “When you buy cheap foods… you pay for it in other ways.”

Mass production in food is a major concern to her for the people in the community. She expresses her concern about people going to the grocery store to purchase cheaper meats and not knowing where they come from when there are local farmers that raise their animals for livestock and provide better quality. 

Concluding the event, she encouraged others to take the initiative to do something that they love outside of everyday work. Even if it is not homesteading, just having something on the side that you could depend on and create for yourself will be beneficial in the long run. Her goal is to have 40 acres and a mule. She currently has 5 acres in Salisbury, NC, with chickens, donkeys, pigs and other animals. 

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