Kendall Ray says her love for farming comes from her great-grandmother Kate Johnson. “She taught me all sorts of things about gardening,” said the little girl. “Like, how do cabbage plants grow – you start with a stalk and put it in the dirt and it grows.”
“When we found out she really enjoyed this whole process of putting a seed and seeing something come out of it, we were like, ‘Okay, we have her interest,'” she said. “So, for her fourth birthday, Kendall Ray’s parents built a little patio garden for her in their home in Atlanta and they threw her a party in the garden.
Two years later, Kendall Rae’s patio garden had grown into a small backyard farm producing carrots, sweet potatoes, strawberries, okra, tomatoes, raspberries, and even Carolina Reapers. “It’s a scary name for pepper,” said Kendall Ray, “because it makes your mouth really hot.”
For homeschooled Kendall Ray, the backyard farm also doubles as her classroom. “She learns hands-on and then she can bring her home and do schoolwork, because she still needs to know her children,” her mother said. “There is always a lesson in digging in the dirt.”
“I love playing in the dirt because it makes me happy,” said Kendall Ray. “It makes me want to garden and share with my friends.”
The path to becoming a certified grower is not as difficult as it may seem. According to Ursula Johnson, “You just have to follow the steps.”
The company currently offers about 20 subscription baskets per month of fruits and vegetables to members of the local community. “If she could grow the fruits and vegetables that literally feed our small community from the yard, just imagine what a backyard full of fruits and vegetables could do for your community,” her mother said.
Kendall Ray agrees: “Sometimes you just need to share fruits and vegetables with the whole community.”
It is a business model observed by local elected officials. In September, Fulton County Commissioner Khadija Abd al-Rahman and her colleagues met with Kendall Ray to present one of the county’s largest honors, a proclamation announcing September 28, 2021, Fulton County’s Kendall Ray Johnson Appreciation Day.
“She has a natural, organic love for farming and it’s contagious,” Abdel-Rahman told CNN. Kendall’s infectious energy and passion for growing fruits and vegetables is one of the reasons Abdul Rahman made Kendall the youngest intern at the Fulton County Board of Commissioners office in southwest Atlanta.
“Times have changed, and with this development, education must change. Our ability to let children know that there are different things they can do, they can become the smallest farmer in Georgia,” Abdul Rahman said. “I want her to inspire people from 2 to 102 because she did it with me.”
Kendall Ray has also made an impression on national politicians such as Senator Raphael Warnock, who mentioned Kendall’s story during an October speech.
“It feels great that they know me now, and they know my garden,” said Kendall Ray.
Kendall Ray’s parents hope they can use the interest and publicity to expand their farm. In five years, Ursula Johnson says her 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 vegetables that we love to eat and cook and maybe some new things we haven’t tried before,” she said.
When asked if she wants to be a farmer when she grows up, Kendall Ray replied, “Oh yeah, and I think I’m a farmer already.”
But her mother doesn’t pressure her to stay in farming: “If 10 years from now she says, ‘Mom, I’m tired of farming, I want to do something else.'” ‘ I was saying, ‘Okay baby, where do we go next?’