Kendall Rae says her love of farming comes from her great grandmother Kate Johnson. “She taught me all kinds of stuff about gardening. Like, how collard greens grow — you start with a stem and put it in the dirt and it grows,” the young girl said.
“When we found out that she really enjoyed this whole process of putting a seed in and seeing something come out of it, we were like, ‘Okay we have her interest,’ ” she said. So, for her fourth birthday, Kendall Rae’s parents built her a small patio garden at their home in Atlanta and threw her a garden party.
Two years later, Kendall Rae’s patio garden has grown into a small backyard farm that produces carrots, sweet potatoes, strawberries, okra, tomatoes, blueberries and even Carolina Reapers. “It’s a scary name for a pepper,” Kendall Rae said, “because it makes your mouth real hot.”
For Kendall Rae, who is home schooled, the backyard farm also doubles as her classroom. “She’s learning hands-on and then she’s able to bring it into the house and do school work, because she still needs to know her a-b-c’s,” her mother said. “There is always a lesson in digging in the dirt.”
“I like playing in the dirt because it makes me happy. It makes me want to garden and share it with my friends,” Kendall Rae said.
The path to becoming a certified farmer isn’t as difficult as it might sound. According to Ursula Johnson, “You just have to follow the steps.”
The business currently offers around 20 monthly subscription baskets of fruits and vegetables to local community members. “If she can grow fruits and vegetables that literally fed our small community from a patio, just imagine what a full backyard of fruits and vegetables could do for your community,” her mom said.
And Kendall Rae agrees: “Sometimes you just need to share your fruits and vegetables with the whole community.”
It is a business model that local elected officials are taking note. In September, Fulton County Commissioner Khadijah Abdur-Rahman and her colleagues met with Kendall Rae to present her with one of the county’s biggest honors, a proclamation declaring September 28, 2021, Kendall Rae Johnson Appreciation Day in Fulton County.
“She has a natural organic love of farming and it’s infectious,” Abdur-Rahman told CNN. Kendall’s infectious energy and passion for growing fruits and vegetables is one reason Abdur-Rahman decided to make Kendall the youngest intern at the Fulton County Board of Commissioners’ office in Southwest Atlanta.
“Times have changed, and with that evolution, education has to change. Our ability to let the children know there are different things that they can do, they can become the youngest farmer in Georgia,” said Abdur-Rahman. “I want her to inspire people from 2 to 102 because she did it with me.”
Kendall Rae is also making an impression on national politicians like Sen. Raphael Warnock, who mentioned Kendall’s story during a sermon he gave in October.
“It feels great that they know me now, and they know my garden,” Kendall Rae said.
Kendall Rae’s parents are hoping they can use the attention and publicity to expand their farm. In five years, Ursula Johnson says their goal is 75 to 100 acres. “We want to be able to have a fruit and nut orchard. We want to be able to have the vegetables that we love to eat and cook and possibly some new stuff that we’ve never tried before,” she said.
Asked if she wants to be a farmer when she grows up, Kendall Rae replied, “Oh yeah, and I think I am already a farmer.”
But her mom’s not pressuring her to stick with farming: “If 10 years from now she said, ‘Mom, I’m tired of farming, I want to do something else.’ I’d say, ‘Okay baby, where we going next?’ “