“The ideas of seeds and nurturing and nourishment and birth are all feminine qualities that are reflected in and essential to growing food,” says Miranda Saunders, the owner of Dragonfly Creek. Hailing from Walterboro, SC, she and her partner Ryan are vendors at Forsyth Farmers’ Market.
For Women’s History Month, we want to highlight the women who help bring fresh produce to Savannah. In this conversation, Miranda discusses food systems, how she taps into her femininity through farming, and the woman who impacted her career the most.
Note: This Q+A was edited for length and clarity.
Darriea Clark: So how did you get started with farming?
Miranda Saunders: So when I was young, my father and his father were farmers. I wasn’t interested in farming then, but they were doing conventional farming, like big scale and growing cotton and soybeans on hundreds of acres. When I went to college at College of Charleston, and I became interested in farming and food systems while studying anthropology. I learned about the origins of agriculture and how agriculture caused the beginnings of wealth accumulation and socioeconomic hierarchy in human civilizations.
Basically, how we produce and distribute our resources is the main factor that determines all of our social, economic, and cultural systems. We’re facing so many crises right now environmentally, socially, politically, and economically, and I really believe a lot of those can be healed by sort of revolutionizing our food system and creating networks of small-scale, sustainable and regenerative farms and returning to more of an equitable and resilient way of producing our resources that can carry us through these changes that we’re facing.
That’s kind of my ideological approach, but I actually got my feet on the ground after college. I took a program called Growing New Farmers in Charleston, and I worked for many years on small-scale farms and permaculture gardens and just learned what I could about the local food system. And then in 2021, I was given land by my grandmother in my hometown of Walterboro, South Carolina. That was an enormous gift that removed the biggest barrier, which is access to land. Me and my partner Ryan moved in the spring of 2021 and started our little farm.
DC: Wow, and how has that experience been for you?
MS: In 2021, we were working really hard and pretty much investing our small savings in building the farm, but we still had to work part-time off of the farm to pay our household bills and keep it going. We’ve been applying for grants and doing markets since that first year. In 2022, we were able to do our first year pretty much full-time at farmers markets. We made some advancements in our infrastructure. We were able to build a walk-in cooler and a drip irrigation system, and we got a grant for our first high tunnel. We’re steadily increasing our garden, so we’re hoping this year will be a successful year.
DC: Yeah, of course. And what does your farm specialize in? Do you have any feature crops or favorite crops that you grow?
MS: We’re diversified, so we grow a range of specialty veggies, like seasonal vegetables. I’m also really interested in herbalism, so we do grow culinary and medicinal herbs. We grow cut flowers. We have some perennial fruits, like blueberries and muscadines, and we’re going to add to those in the future. We also raise chickens for eggs and have rabbits. We use the rabbits a lot. Their manure is great for the garden. You don’t have to compost it the same way, so they’re like almost like an on site fertilizer production.
DC: Oh, I did not know that. And they’re very cuddly, right?
MS: Yes. I love them. They’re good companions. We started raising them last year. They’re kind of a lot like cats, really, but they’re quiet. They’re much more personality based than I realized before.
DC: That’s funny. And so when it comes to your career as a farmer, how have women impacted your farming?
MS: So foundationally, my grandmother, who gave us this farmland, is our biggest sponsor. As I mentioned, the land is one of the greatest barriers to entry for new and beginning farmers. She grew up in North Carolina and was born and raised into kind of a low-income family, but she was able throughout her lifetime to build her wealth. And she always lived in North Carolina, but she got this property here where we are now as a second house to be able to visit us when me and my siblings were children in our hometown. But then she got too old to care for it, so that’s why she gave it to me knowing that I wanted to start a farm.
Obviously, it’s very lucky, and I am privileged to benefit from that inherited wealth. But then also, heir inheritance is related to the privilege of being white in America. Women of color in MawMaw’s time wouldn’t have had the same access to the social capital and economic opportunities that allowed her to raise herself from her bootstraps, as they say.
Just speaking of women and the influence of my farming career, she’s number one for allowing us to even be there. As for the other farmers and growers that I’ve worked for, there’s Ashley of Kindlewood Farms. There’s also Fire Ant Farms on Johns Island. I worked for them for about three years. The farmer there is a man, and he does the growing, but his partner and wife manages the finances, legal work, marketing, and more of the technical, behind the scenes work. She was a huge guidance for me in terms of starting the business and the legal processes, taxes, and background things that are required.
DC: Why do you think it’s important for women to be involved in farming? How does women impact the farming industry?
MS: As we’ve learned, agriculture– especially in America– has always been dominated by men, especially white men. And the average age of farmers in America right now is like 55, 57 years old. And so it’s important for us to make agriculture appealing and accessible for new types of people. That includes women, but also young people in general, like gender nonconforming people and people of color. We need a diversity of people in all different types of communities to be involved in not just raising food, but also teaching other people how to raise food and telling people why it’s important, so we can have a healthy food system and healthy communities.
And we need more initiatives and funding in terms of helping people get access to land and capital and all the different resources that it takes to get started with farming. Because as I mentioned, with all the environmental and social issues that we’re facing right now, we really need to make sure that as things are changing, we have a reliable way to produce what we need the most. There’s a lot of things we need, but we definitely need food, right?
Women are important in farming, and we know that small scale farms are crucial for the health of our economy and environment. But for me, related to my womanhood, farming also carries a spiritual significance in a way of working with natural elements: the soil of the earth, the water, the air and the light that are needed for growing. You are intimately involved in the cycles of life and death as you’re growing plants and tearing things out. (You tap into your) fertility and intuition.
And these are all ideas that are sacred powers of femininity, and not just women have them. Even men and non-binary people can tap into these powers too. But it’s just that we need to lean into these ideas to create balance and harmony and resilience in our culture that has been so masculine-centric and -dominated for so long. And building on that, the ideas of seeds and nurturing and nourishment and birth are all feminine qualities that are reflected in and essential to growing food.
DC: Yeah, I totally get what you mean. And so with all that being said, I know you’re the owner of the farm, but what are your direct responsibilities?
MS: So I’m the owner of the farm, and then my partner, Ryan, is my business partner and also my fiance. He works with me. We don’t have any employees. It’s just the two of us, but we’re hoping this year will be our first year to finally getting help. And the main obstacle to that so far has just been financial, really just being able to pay someone, but we’re hoping to have a good year. In terms of my role, I am the gardens manager, so I do all of the crop planning and planting.
Ryan does more of the chickens management and building. He’s built our greenhouse and our walk in. He does the infrastructure, like repair and maintenance, whereas I do the raising of the vegetables, herbs, and flowers. I do pretty much most of the harvesting and packing for market, and he does the eggs. He helps me when I need it, but he’s doing other stuff too. And I do like the background stuff I was mentioning earlier, like keeping the accounting and doing all the legal work. But then Ryan also helps me at market.
DC: It sounds like a real partnership.
MS: Yeah, it’s very balanced, I would say. He always says, “she’s the real farmer,” because I have all the background knowledge and experience of working on farms and planting and maintaining crops, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without someone to help me. He does a lot.
DC: Amazing. And so as we are looking forward to seeing you at the market, what is something that you want people to know about your farm? What sets you apart?
MS: We do use regenerative practices, which just means focusing on building soil health and general ecosystem health. We also offer all of our produce on a sliding scale because local food is more expensive, and it’s so important for people who can support local farmers to pay the market price, but there’s also people who just wouldn’t be able to afford to buy the more expensive local produce at the market price.
So we always have signage on our price board saying we accept sliding scale just to try to either make an effort to make it more affordable or even just start conversations with people who can afford it and just talk about why food justice and access is important.
DC: Absolutely. And what can people expect to buy at your tent?
MS: This Saturday, we will have eggs, radishes, Swiss chard, our salad mix, cilantro, scallions, and baby celery.
DC: Okay, and you’re there every other Saturday?
MS: Yeah, right now. We were going every week when we had a lot during the growing season, but since the winter and that freeze in December, we didn’t have as much so we’ve been doing every other week for now. Hopefully soon, like in the spring when we start having a little more to harvest, we’ll be returning to a regular schedule.
This feature is part of a series to highlight the women who provide fresh food to Savannah. Happy Women’s History Month.
Interview and photos by Darriea Clark, Director of Communications and Fund Development for the Forsyth Farmers’ Market. For any leads, inquiries, or concerns, please contact us.