Before they ever met, musicians Quinoa Soedsauer and Reynaldo Budhi were both living in New York when they both realized they wanted something different out of life. Soedsauer was playing the saxophone with his band while working odd jobs, and Budhi was in between jobs and wondering about his next step.
“I just felt I grew up in the city, lived in the city, studied in the city, worked in the city,” said Budhi. “I wasn’t being as creative as I wanted to be. All my posts on Facebook were about being sustainable and growing your own food, so that started being my interest.”
Soedsauer is originally from St. Petersburg, Florida and studied jazz at the University of North Florida. Budhi grew up in Staten Island, New York, and got his master’s in piano — first teaching piano for more than a decade and then English in Taiwan for five years. Neither of their paths seemed destined to take them down on the farm in Mississippi, but Budhi says he always felt like there was something missing.
“My whole life, I felt disconnected and I didn’t know what it was until I realized it was nature,” said Budhi. “I didn’t even know what a tomato plant looked like or peppers or anything. You just get them from the grocery store. I dreamt about living a more rural life and somehow getting in touch with nature. I needed to get out of the city, but I didn’t know how to do it.”
On the other hand, Soedsauer felt right at home in the city.
“I felt like New York always wanted to keep me there,” said Soedsauer. But after an experience in the spring of 2017, something changed.
“I borrowed a car to visit my cousin out at this commune and was really just excited to get out of the city and see some nature and rural life,” said Soedsauer.
Back to Nature
It was at the commune that Soedsauer was introduced to Budhi and the two began to build a relationship together. After several months of participating in Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF), the two decided it was time to start their own sustainable farm in the south.
WWOOF is a global program that links volunteers with organic farmers to help educate and promote cultural experiences and learning. Working alongside a host, you help with daily farm tasks and get to experience life on a farm in lieu of getting a paycheck.
“Basically farms will put a profile up and you can go work for them and they’ll feed you,” said Budhi. “They don’t pay you, but they’ll feed you and house you, if you work 25 hours a week.”
Before Soedsauer left to work on a farm that summer, Budhi put the idea into his head that they should start their own farm together. While Budhi had more than a year’s worth of experience under his belt, Soedsauer realized he needed more farming knowledge before he was comfortable with the idea, and so he went labor on a farm in Asheville, North Carolina.
“They were amazing,” said Soedsauer. “I learned how to sow salad greens and make beds using just hand tools. A lot of the things that I learned there is what we do now. They were very in line with what I wanted, and it was hard to find farms that were exactly the style of agriculture that I wanted to do. It’s sort of its own art form and everyone has their personal take on how they want to do things. So while I was there, I was like, you know what? We have to do this. We’re gonna start this farm.”
While the two were looking at options in Long Island, Mississippi, and Michigan, they decided Mississippi was their best bet after they connected with Daniel Doyle, who in turn connected them to John and Gwen Wages, owners of Permaculture Design Magazine. and their current landlords.
“They gave us a really amazing rent price and have just been very helpful,” said Soedsauer. “They’ve got all sorts of farm equipment, and let us use their stuff. The property has sort of been a homestead through multiple generations. The Wages’ owned it, and farmed it.”
Making it in Mississippi
Budhi was not as sold on the idea of moving to Mississippi as Soedsauer was, but after some convincing the two relocated to Tupelo. The business they started was named “Samsara Garden” after a Sanskrit term in Buddhism that describes the cycle of rebirth and the attachments to which all people are bound.
“Basically we’re a gay couple that’s going to come in and try to have a business here,” said Budhi. “So, there was a big fear, but there was also an excitement to that too. It was kind of new frontiers instead of just going to a place that’s comfortable. If we had chosen a different, bigger city that already had their farmers and their farmers’ markets, we’d be oversaturated. So, it was kind of a cool adventure for us.”
The new farmers said it was all trial and error as they learned how to farm in Mississippi with its weather patterns of droughts and floods while maintaining no-till practices, which involve growing crops without disturbing the soil through ploughing.
“We encountered every single problem you can imagine,” said Budhi. “It’s not just farming, we were starting a business, so we had all the hurdles. Starting with poor soil, then trying to grow stuff properly, and once we grow it, how do we sell it?”
Soedsauer said that parts of their garden were completely underwater for extended periods of time and that weather was not their only problem.
“Everyone in Mississippi knows its floods in the spring, droughts in the fall,” said Soedsauer. “That’s common to a lot of places, but last year the damage from flooding, like, we had 40 inches for forever. We’ve had a lot of crops that we’ve lost just to the flooding in the spring, and we found out early on that we had rabbits around. There’s not much that we are willing to do about the rabbits. You know, I’m not about to go out and shoot rabbits. I’m also a vegan. The best we could hope for is Andy (the dog), and he’s useless.”
Budhi said that even though they’re not new to Mississippi anymore they’re still relatively new farmers, and they’re learning something new every day.
“We’re learning now what works for us and what works for the market, what works for our soil, what works for our weather, what works for our specific gardens,” said Budhi. “I think we are really figuring that out.”
Soedsauer says that while they might have started out as two naive young musicians turned farmers, they have done some things right.
“We very much lucked out to come at a time when people knew what all these weird Asian vegetables are,” said Soedsauer. “It’s good that there are already farmers here, but we also kinda got to corner the market with microgreens. There was no one doing that. So that was a large part of our success, especially our first year.”
With a stall at the Oxford Community Market, the farmers sell salad and microgreens, as well as homemade bread and a few other items.
And Soedsauer and Budhi seem to be in it for the long haul. “You could certainly be a lot more successful than we are and in future years we definitely will be,” said Soedsauer. “But the fact that we made it through year one is a testament that anyone can probably do it.”
What is No-Till Farming?
According to Regeneration International, it’s estimated that the Earth loses close to 23 billion tons of fertile soil each year, meaning that within 150 years all of the fertile soil could be gone. This is largely due to farmers using conventional tilling methods that turn over top soil and destroy microbes and other micro-organisms that make the soil rich.
This is why more and more farmers are beginning to practice no-till methods in order to disturb the soil as little as possible.
These methods help ensure that the soil can maintain a larger amount of organic matter. No-till farming is also beneficial for the farmer because the better the internal structure of the soil, the more nutrient-dense crops it will produce.