In southern Atlanta, artist and activist Quianah Upton finds fertile ground for her “greenhouse eatery”

In southern Atlanta, artist and activist Quianah Upton finds fertile ground for her “greenhouse eatery”

Quianah Upton

Photo by Melissa Alexander

Quianah Upton knows that her vision for Nourish Botanica is a bit ambitious. To start with, the place will do the things restaurants do – in this case, serving vegan food with Caribbean and Southern influences. Upton also envisions Nourish Botanica as a nursery that will sell plants while offering garden education; the herbs and flowers grown on site will meanwhile be used at the Botanica Bar, where they will go for juices, teas and zero-proof cocktails.

The “greenhouse eatery,” as Upton describes it, will further have a mission: It will be a place that “brings black joy to life,” putting food justice at the center of its work – space will be donated to nonprofits and communities. members holding events. Part of the mission will also be reflected in its location. Upton always knew she wanted to place her business in a predominantly black neighborhood where generations of structural racism have limited opportunities for food and agriculture; she’s spent the last year leading in southern Atlanta, while raising money because – too – it all depends heavily on donations, at least so far.

Quianah Upton

Photo by Melissa Alexander

Upton, a staple of Atlanta’s art community, has long been a convener – someone who brought people together, often over food, for conversations about problems the city faces. But she has never run a restaurant. Aside from a stay as a server, she has never worked in the food industry in any traditional sense. When we spoke together in August, Upton seemed both hopeful and overwhelmed when she saw her goal-opening date – spring 2022 – approaching. “I always wanted to have a physical space,” she told me. “What I did not know was that the spirit would require the physical space to be a restaurant.” She laughed. “I was like, Are you sure?

Upton, an army boy born in the Virgin Islands, grew up partly in the projects in South Florida, in neighborhoods she describes as food insecure: lacking access to fresh or nutritious food. She moved to Atlanta as an adult because she had heard about the city’s thriving black art scene – of which Upton would become an influential part and find her place in various communities: food, justice, agriculture, art.

In 2014, she launched Arbitrary Living, a pop-up on Auburn Avenue that sells vintage and handmade household items; two years later, through an offshoot of that project called #ChopItUpATL, she began hosting dinners for a curated list of diners from the city’s creative and organizing worlds – and gathering different voices to discuss topics such as gentrification and food sovereignty. First, Upton cooked; she remembers cooking tuna steaks on a baking sheet set behind the retail shelf at Arbitrary Living. After a few meals, she began outsourcing meal preparation to local chefs, including frequent collaborator Jerome Kendrick, and the concept eventually became known as Nourish in Black.

Quianah Upton
Through her Nourish in Black dinners, Quianah Upton has raised thousands of dollars for local food justice groups.

Photo by Melissa Alexander

Over the years, Nourish in Black has raised thousands of dollars through her dinner parties to donate to local food justice organizations, and Upton has been behind various food pop-ups and other fleeting events: In 2017, for example, she organized a series she called Collective Impact Dinners, where each of five meals represented a step in the food production system – processing, distribution, and so on – with revenue distributed to local groups. In 2018, she participated in Politics as part of the “What Works Next” series, highlighting Millennials’ solutions to social problems. Last year, when the country was engulfed in protests against racial inequality and police brutality, Upton worked in partnership with FreeFoodATL to create Nourish the People, an initiative that provided free hot meals to activists during the protests.

Even as she worked to serve protesters in the midst of the riot, Upton thought ahead. In 2020, she launched the fundraising campaign for the space that will become the Nourish Botanica – motivated by the conviction to create a central, permanent place where black people, and especially women, could be centered, uplifted and healed. During the first 84 days, she raised $ 60,000, but quickly realized she needed to travel a lot more, especially as Atlanta real estate costs skyrocket. (Throughout this process, she has always wanted to buy the land that Nourish would sit on to ensure the longevity of the place.) Her initial budget had been, she says, “loose”: “It was so loose that it is almost to laugh now. ” She relaunched her campaign this year at Juneteenth with a goal of $ 180,000, though she knows that even that will not cover all the venue’s expenses.

The biggest concern was taken care of this fall – serendipitally. Upton began mixing his mail with another South Atlanta resident, Kristin Jordan, who lives on the same house number on another street. Jordan was already a donor to Upton’s GoFundMe, which she had read about on Nextdoor, and happened to have room to rent: a 2,000-square-foot building built on an empty lot she had purchased in 2018 for her Zumbido Atlanta store, which sells fair trade art and home articles. (Jordan is still figuring out how Zumbido will look ahead, mainly due to the pandemic; as an immunocompromised person, she is hesitant about personal sales.) The building is located on a third of an acre on Pryor Road – not far from there, in In 2018, the Atlanta BeltLine acquired land for the Southside Trail. If she hadn’t gotten the lottery before then, Jordan said, “I probably would not have been able to afford to buy.”

Quianah Upton

Photo by Melissa Alexander

In September, Upton announced an agreement with Jordan to rent space in the building for three years for what she describes as a “very, very, very, very, very, reasonable amount of money.” Once a year has passed, the couple will reflect on the rental price based on the profitability of Nourish Botanica, even though there is still a rental ceiling in place. Even when Jordan approached her with the suggestion – at first she just hit a “soft launch” into space – Upton was cautious. “It’s been a very long process,” she said – not just the collection, but the whole years of experience with Nourish in Black.

Jordan understood the hesitation. “I had an unfair advantage in that I had read all about her campaign and was just so crazy about her project,” she said. “She did not know me from Adam, and she had no reason to trust that I was sincere in what I said, quite frankly.” Still, Jordan said she wanted to rent to Upton “because of systemic racism in this country and how it has excluded so many blacks specifically and other colored people. [and] indigenous peoples, from creating generational wealth through land ownership. “

In southern Atlanta, artist and activist Quianah Upton finds fertile ground for her “greenhouse eatery”
These days, Upton sells floral arrangements and various creations – such as shrubs and other plant-based beverages – from a drop-off cart parked outside local businesses.

Photo by Melissa Alexander

Both parties agree that Upton may end up buying the land – so that part of the big dream is still alive. When we caught Zoom in September, Upton was happier than during our chat the previous month. She said she will spend much of the winter preparing for the spring launch by renewing space to accommodate food carts (as she works to raise money and eventually build a commercial kitchen) and a garden. Even with the “perfect” space, however, she knows she will need much more than the property itself to bring the Nourish Botanica to life. As of late October, GoFundMe had raised nearly $ 90,000, or only half of its new target.

Still, the fact that Nourish Botanica has finally gotten a home has been a much-needed confidence boost, she said, “This miracle coming out of nowhere makes me feel like we can have some more miracles.”

This article appears in our December 2021 issue.