Rahn Broady grew up in St. Louis and always loved the natural world. A lifelong lover of science, he attended Harris-Stowe state university and majored in secondary education and biology. Rahn has been a teacher for nearly 20 years, and has taught algebra, biology, life science, and garden classes. He has also worked for community organizations, community gardens, and as a professional chef.
How did you get to New Orleans and ESYNOLA?
I was seeing someone who was moving to New Orleans and so I came to visit. I fell in love with the vibe and the spirit in the city right away. I felt like it was a spiritual thing. I felt like I needed to be here for a reason, and then I learned that there was an Edible Schoolyard here. I ended up coming to interview, and my first job was as a part-time garden teacher at Green. I moved to Ashe for a lead garden educator position in 2012.
There’s a lot of turmoil in the world, so many toxic things out there, but every time I step into this building [Ashe], even if I’m in the most funky mood, everything just turns around.
How would you describe your job to a Pre-K student?
We get to go outside, we get to smell flowers. We get to taste things that grow out of the ground. Do you like worms? Let’s go find some feathers! Garden class is a time to ask questions and feel the air on your face.
If you could share a garden salad with anyone, living or dead, who would you share the salad with and what is one thing you’d put in the salad?
George Washington Carver. I would’ve liked to have met him and watched him work. I would love to just watch him move, and watch him do things: harvest, and maybe work in a greenhouse. I’d put some spicy greens in the salad — arugula, nasturtium, mustard greens — and maybe some fennel because I like that texture. And I’d use some kumquats and peanuts to make a really smooth dressing.
What are three things most people might not know about you?
I was a preemie, an extreme preemie. I was born not breathing, and they had to resuscitate me at birth. I was 2.5 lbs. My coordination was off until I was about 6 years old, so I had to get extra practice with activities that require basic coordination like tying my shoes and bouncing a ball.
I lifted weights in school in the 150 weight class. My older brother and I used to compete. But I haven’t been in a gym since I was 19.
My favorite landscape that I’ve never visited is the Swiss Alps. This is based on my love of the story Heidi — My mom read stories really well, and the way that she read Heidi in particular was magical.
If you weren’t a garden teacher and could be magically trained and hired to be anything else, what would you be?
I would like to be an anthropologist or a paleontologist. I’d love to go on digs. Myother secret love is meteorology. I’d love to be a weatherman.
What would people never guess that you do in your role as a garden teacher?
I’m really intentional about breaking down gender roles. Things girls supposedly can’t do, colors that are girl colors and boy colors–I’ve been on a crusade to crush these assumptions whenever I can.
If you could be any animal, what would you be?
I really like magpies, crows, and ravens. I like how they operate. But I think that I wouldn’t have a choice, I’d just be a squirrel. How I do things, how I store things. I’m kind of a squirrel / hermit crab. I don’t stop. I’m always doing things, moving things around.
What is your spirit plant?
The plant that I’ve always felt attached to since I was a little kid was a weeping willow. I have one that shows up in my dreams that lives on a street in St. Louis. I go back to visit it whenever I’m home. The willow tree is magical. It creates its own space, and propagates things. You can make a rooting hormone out of the leaves and stems.
What’s a favorite family tradition?
My father is into music and was very nontraditional. During Christmas, he would always play the weirdest, coolest music while we were opening presents, like Marvin Gaye or Prince’s Purple Rain. When you’re opening your presents to the song “Darling Nikki,” that’s a special thing.
In the past 8 years, how has your perspective of the need for our work or the benefits of it changed?
The thing that’s changed is me and my approach. Here’s my first month: I see kids busting out chips and not eating their food at lunch. I’m taking their chips away and shaming the kids, telling them, “This ain’t lunch!” Donna, my supervisor at the time, took me aside and told me I couldn’t shame kids. This is their lunch. We have to take baby steps. So I got set to a path of gradualism, because you can’t change behavior right away. It’s a slow modelling and modification. I know now that the work we do is gradual, like evolution gradual. Like, we want this to be in our kids’ grandkids’ blood gradual.
What food makes you the happiest?
Mac & cheese always makes me the happiest. Cheese has some sort of drug-like effect. Also, these oatmeal cookies that my mom made. And spinach. Not baby spinach but mature spinach. My sister and I were anemic as babies, and my mom didn’t like what the iron medicine was doing to us. She would give us bowls of chopped, steamed spinach. It still gives me great comfort.
How has being involved in this work changed you?
It makes me more self-reflective. It makes me proud of my grower self. It makes me proud to let kids and my neighbors know that I will share things that I grow in my yard. It’s still teaching me how to reflect on how all of my actions affect my life. We are all students. We’re all not finished. We have to be gentle with ourselves and our students, and yet be consistent with improvement.
What part of ESY’s mission or values speaks to you most?
My eye for detail in beauty and aesthetics in the garden and in the classroom, that’s something that always stands out for me. It’s something we talk to the kids about: how you keep your space is how you feel about yourself. That and the connectedness to nature in general. I’m a nature boy. In humanity there’s a huge nature deficit. There are a lot of people who fear the natural world. As a person of color, it’s important for me to bring the kids back to nature where they truly belong. There are a lot of black and brown kids who feel like they don’t belong. Everytime I talk about hiking or camping, they say,” That’s for white people.” But I want them to be able to own everything that this earth has to offer. My ancestors built everything that makes this country its own. I want students to know that every inch of this nation belongs to them.