Dr. Najmah Thomas and Nature Gaston

Roots, Farmacy & Mother Herb

April 2023 IssueDrNajmahThomas0423

by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World

Najmah Dr. Najmah Thomas is a young woman with lots of energy. She is a professor at University of South Carolina Beaufort in the Public Health and Human Services Program and the African American Studies minor. However, her first love is the family farm. Her parents, Bertha Mae and Alphonia, established the Earth People Farms and way of life in the late ‘70s on St. Helena Island, and their children, Najamah, Glen, and Nature, are carrying on the ways of the African Gullah/Geechee heritage.

Najmah shared that her parents did not go to regular doctors if they were sick. They had knowledge of and experience with plants, trees, and herbs growing right on their property and knew which ones to use for various ailments. Today the siblings have a new wooden structure, called the EP Farmacy, which is well stocked with drying plants and small batch bottles of oil, tinctures, bags of tea, T-shirts, and charts to guide customers back to the old ways of maintaining good health. Of course, there is a disclaimer that these remedies, while used for generations, have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.

The day I visited the Earth People Farm, there was an outdoor conference of the South Carolina Black Farmers Coalition. Najmah is the vice president of the organization, and actively involved with black farmers across the state. Kisha Kinard was speaking to the group about her small farm where she grows some of the materials needed to sew sweetgrass baskets, a prized art which used to dot US Highway 17 heading to Charleston. Farmers from around the state came together to meet at Penn Center, as well as the Earth People Farms site, for workshops and networking around the theme “Tending to the Roots for the Next Generation.”

It was an absolutely stunning day in the Lowcountry, not a cloud in the sky, cool, yet sunny. The farm had a peaceful stillness which was only disturbed by an occasional hawk flying by. Nature Gaston, Najmah’s older sister, who no longer lives in the Lowcountry, remarked that the stillness and peace of St. Helena was what she missed the most. Najmah also wanted to recognize the “training and unwavering support over the years” of her uncle and aunt, Mr. & Mrs. Ben and Ruthie Johnson. They encouraged the three siblings to make their dream a reality. The Thomas family also received support from the Agribusiness Center for Research and Entrepreneurship (ACRE), an initiative of the SC Department of Agriculture.

Today they have a huge greenhouse known as “High Tunnel,” where baby plants are nurtured to maturity. Just a few of the many plants growing there are mullein—affectionately referred to as the EP Farms “Mother Herb”—strawberries, asparagus, Queen Anne’s lace, scallions, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, okra (the okra leaf is on their main logo), and many more.

True stewards of the earth, Najmah and Nature are interested in sharing Earth People Farms with young people. They envision field trips from schools to show children the “old ways of the Gullah/Geechee” families and the crops they grew to eat and cure their ailments.

When their mother Bertha Mae first saw “High Tunnel” and the many mullein plants growing there, she remarked, “Hmmm. Y’all have bucks in here.” She knew from many years of experience the wonderful healing properties of this native plant. On the Farmacy chart, mullein is recommended for treatment of asthma, cold and flu, earache, and pains, including menstrual cramps.

Earth People Farms was recently featured in the Grown in SC magazine—a publication of the SC Department of Agriculture. The Thomas siblings plan to continue to focus on fresh fruits and vegetables on their family acreage, but their “value-added items” from the Farmacy help to pay the county taxes and bring in more revenue.

A micro-farm is an agricultural infrastructure that typically works on five acres of land or less. These farms can be on urban rooftops, in suburban backyards, or on family-owned small acreages. Their focus is sustainability and commitment to growing small quantities of vegetables, fruits, and herbs usually for the owner’s personal use at the beginning, but eventually branching out to connect with needs of others.

The benefits of micro-farming are numerous. Being outside in the fresh air is number one. The quarantine of the pandemic caused many people to seek refuge in their own yards, working in the dirt; this benefit can not be overemphasized. Access to healthy, high-quality food is another huge benefit. Together, they combine to produce a venture that is scientifically and experientially proven to improve one’s health, happiness, and peace of mind. What more can you ask?

Find it at Earth People Farms:

• “First Fruits” basket of seasonal produce for weekly or biweekly delivery or pickup

• Handpicked flower bouquets from the farm

• EP Citrus: oranges and tangerines grown right on
St. Helena

• Sugar cane stalks

• Muscadine Grapes 

• Educational farm tours for school and other interest groups, reservations needed—