A Peek Inside Our Design Process
When I envisioned Cotton & Moss I knew it was important to me to create something that felt fresh and different, but it wasn’t till after many discussions with my significant other where he often encouraged me to interview people to find out their needs and how they might use something. As a user experience designer, this is on his brain constantly! After dealing with my nervousness I decided to reach out to folks as this would help me build better, more functional collections. From there I’ve been reaching out to food farmers, flower farmers, home gardeners and so on.
It’s been a very fun and interesting process so I want to share some of that with you. I typically ask the same questions to all so that I can compare responses while designating into three categories – Background, Daily Habits, Lifestyle. My latest interview was with Janelle Hillman of January Farms.
Janelle began January Farms right in the back of her home in East Nashville, Tennessee. She envisions it long term as a place where there could be a studio to record, write or simply a place to retreat and connect back to nature. The goal would be to produce food and other goods for the community. Although, not quite to that scale yet Janelle felt she had to start somewhere and so she began. She had experience working in community gardens and knew with research she could create something truly special. Now almost five years later she has a very organized, yet natural garden full of goodies including some beehives! Check out the interview below. We even got her to try on some new goods (apron & sun hat) for the summer drop coming soon!
How long have you been gardening? Do you dedicate a certain number of hours per week to it?
Janelle Hillman: I have been gardening in some respects all my life, but independently for about seven years. I did an internship in college at a community garden connected to a local non-profit. It was then that I realized growing food has a way of connecting people while simultaneously connecting them to nature. After that, whether it was in a window box in Chicago or across a rented front lawn, I have made gardens.
I cannot really say I dedicate a certain number of hours, it depends on the season and so many things, but I am very aware of it if I don’t step into my garden at least once every day. Some days I can get in there for three hours if I have cooperative kiddos, but there are other days it’s only fifteen minutes.
Was this something you learned to do or grew up with?
Janelle: We always had a garden growing up. My Grandpa had a huge garden, I remember going out to their place, the strong scent of marigolds that he had surrounding the perimeter, and eating fresh green beans and corn. He would sell tomatoes by the bucket at their restaurant.
He was also a beekeeper and that’s where I got the inkling that I could try that too. My mom taught me to preserve by canning. It was always around me.
In your education or learning experiences was there something that could have made it easier overall?
Janelle: Well, I think easier doesn’t necessarily teach you anything. I might say it would have been easier off the bat if I had more money to devote to gardening, but because we didn’t, I had to be creative. I figured out how to use what I had. At one point, I made a small garden bed in a rented place with lots of bamboo landscaping, so I used bamboo as my trellis and made tomato cages out of it. It looked ridiculous but it worked.
I think finding a community of like-minded people would have been helpful after moving to Nashville. It took me awhile to connect with others in this aspect, but there are so many opportunities, from seed swaps to neighbor plant sales or trades, getting connected can help so much.
When you get ready for gardening, what do you choose to wear? Warmer Months vs. Cooler Months. Be specific as to why you choose those items.
Janelle: In the warmer summer months, I will resort to shorts but most of the time I prefer to garden in pants, loose but covering to protect against bugs and itchiness, and so I can bend down and have a little padding.
Depending on the temperature I will wear anything from a loose cotton tank top, long-sleeved loose cotton button-down, or a wool flannel. Sports bra and cotton undies are best.
My hat is a given, at any time of year, the same one I’ve had for six years, straw and slightly falling apart. Usually my rubber ankle boots with ankle or higher socks, but sometimes I go in barefoot. And I often have a bandana or scarf around my neck or head, for sweat or to cover my face or neck if needed.
What do you look for in garden clothes or gear? Think about how you want to feel and if there are particular details you look for.
Janelle: Historically for me, garden gear was anything that wasn’t nice enough to wear socially anymore: worn out sneakers, ripped jeans, stained t-shirts. And this is still a little true. I have a pair of old jeans that are perfectly worn in, loose and comfy for bending and working. Both knees got very ripped, so I sewed fabric from an old stained onesie inside, and now they work great again.
Most of the time, gardening, I don’t want to worry about my clothes. I don’t want tight, form-fitting. I want loose and forgiving. Comfy denim, cotton, strength in the pants, and light and airy for the top.
How do you stay organized? Do you use anything, in particular, to note take, marking things in the garden, etc? Would you ever use a pre-made planner?
Janelle: At the start of every year I painstakingly plan out the garden on a piece of computer paper. I have used the GrowVeg planner before and really enjoyed it, but it didn’t fit in my budget, and I actually liked figuring out all the details anyway.
I use a color-coded chart that I made a few years ago for bed rotation. I also use an Indoor Seed Starting print out and reference the Farmers’ Almanac and another planting calendar for planting dates. But during the year, things naturally end up a little different.
The last couple years I started using one of those little flip notebooks and jot down where and when I planted things in each bed. I will tuck that in my basket that I have out for the day with seeds and tools in it, with a pencil, or it fits in my back pocket. I find unless I do it right away, I forget.
For marking, I use cotton twine for separating rows early on in the season, with little metal U stakes. I have used various things to mark rows: rocks, sticks, bamboo stakes, spent bamboo toothbrushes, and if there is space I will write on it with a special water/fade resistant marker.
If I’m feeling organized that day I will put everything I am planning on using in a wicker basket with my hand tools (seed packets, notebook, pencil, marking pen, phone). If I don’t use a basket, during planting time I will put everything I am planning on doing that day together with a clothespin and my garden map/layout. The clothespin keeps it all from blowing away. I am sure I did not come up with this, but I may have, and it works out perfectly. Or I put it all in a metal canister.
As you can see, I don’t have a science. I would definitely use a pre-made planner, I essentially make my own every year, there are so many little details that I need to remind myself of, like what plants are good companions and what spacing to do for which crop.
Is there a certain item you don’t leave the house without?
Janelle: My hat. I also got a hori hori knife this year, and it is probably my favorite new tool.
Can you briefly walk thru the strategy of what your day might look like in the garden?
Janelle: On an exclusively gardening day, I will first take a garden walk, usually with a cup of coffee. I say Good Morning to it, first of all, appreciate it as it is. Take a look at what grew, what needs doing the most, what I maybe should focus on, what needs to be picked and what can wait. I might jump in and pick a weed or two or harvest something particularly alluring. But then I will make sure I am dressed and ready, watered up, and I gather my tools. I get any seeds I want to put in and carry it all out to the garden.
I usually pick a bed to work in or a general project. If I need to get seeds planted I will start with one bed or one crop and plant it and move on to the next. Sometimes it’s just weeding, or monitoring bug damage or harvesting. I try to finish one task before I start a new one, but that doesn’t always happen.
Do you have a favorite tool? Why?
Janelle: I really like my three-pronged rake, sometimes called a cultivator. It can act as a hoe, on its side, it’s small enough to fit between rows, but can do a lot of damage to weeds and can pick out rocks. It’s pretty versatile.
Least favorite tool? Why?
Janelle: I have a hand spade that I used to like, but the handle is plastic and it comes off the blade often. It is such a bummer. It has become a sandbox toy and a good lesson for my younger cheaper self, buy quality.
How do you carry your tools?
Janelle: I have a basket for my hand tools, and I just carry the rest.
Would you ever use a waist apron or bag for carrying tools or supplies if you don’t currently? If no, why?
Janelle: I have contemplated this, there are a few different designs that I think might be useful - the Roo apron seems cool, but I don’t think I’d want something body length. There are a few different designs with drawstrings or ruched pouches, but I think I would only want to use them for harvesting or small things like twine or wire hooks. I feel like tools in your front would be bothersome. I have contemplated a belt with hooks, like a carpenter, or just a case for my hori hori knife.
How do you feel after being in the garden?
Janelle: I usually feel a good mixture of super invigorated and really exhausted.
Do you change after being in the garden & if so what are your go-to items?
Janelle: Depending on how sweaty and dirty I am, but not unless I’m doing something in particular. If I got really gross I will throw on a light airy dress after a shower, or shorts and a tank top (typically I’m still pretty warm). If it’s colder months, I will put on a nice warm sweater and warm dry socks.
How do you want to feel when you wear them?
Janelle: Like my skin can breathe again. After being sweaty or wet and cold, your skin tends to feel either rough and sun-beaten, chafed, or pruney (if it’s wet out). After garden work, I want to feel refreshed, and rested, even if it’s just making my skin feel better.
Gardening is hard work so is there something that helps you to relax?
Janelle: While I’m gardening, I am in my flow, it is like a Zen moment for me, like meditation. It can be hard, definitely, but I usually get into the flow and don’t think of how difficult it is. Until after.
Occasionally I will listen to music while I garden, something upbeat or very meditative. After, to relax I might take a shower, lay on the ground or floor for a bit with some water, or enjoy a piece of fresh fruit or a beer.
Lastly, what do you enjoy most about gardening & beekeeping?
Janelle: For me, gardening and beekeeping remind me of my place in this world. I am here to be a steward, to take care of this beautiful world that we were given. I can choose to leave it a bit better than I found it.
I choose to let something grow, to foster life and in that I find such beauty. A flower, a fresh snap pea, the smell of beeswax. It all grounds me. It connects me to the roots of my existence. To my Creator. To those around me who I am sharing it with.
If you want to learn more about January Farms check that out here. Also, if you are a gardener that is interested in being apart of our surveys feel free to reach out at email@example.com - would love to connect!
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