Plant vendors and enthusiasts alike gathered inside Atlanta’s ISO Studios on Saturday for the inaugural social for the Facebook group ‘Black Planters,’ a virtual collective of Black plant owners and lovers who exchange advice, conduct sales and hold general discussions about plants and gardening.

The event featured opportunities in commerce and education, bringing together small business owners, speakers and the public to buy, sell and learn about cultivating various types of greenery.

Ashley Nussman-Berry, organizer of Saturday's social, poses for a portrait.
Ashley Nussman-Berry, founder of the Facebook community and organizer of Saturday’s event, said she created ‘Black Planters’ as a way to give Black horticulturalists an outlet to socialize and spread their knowledge to others. Credit: Janelle Ward / The Atlanta Voice

Ashley Nussman-Berry, founder of the Facebook community and organizer of Saturday’s event, said she created ‘Black Planters’ as a way to give Black horticulturalists an outlet to socialize and spread their knowledge to others. She started the group before the height of the pandemic and the period of civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd, a time when Black people faced isolation and disregard from social groups of contrasting backgrounds.

Online communities for plant lovers are abundant across multiple social media platforms, but Nussman-Berry said ‘Black Planters’ creates a safe space for Black people harboring an interest in gardening, fostering a community that appreciates Black ideas and culture while supporting Black issues and matters of racial injustice, trends that she found weren’t as prevalent within mainstream, multiracial plant communities.

“[Black members] were getting shut down over and over [inside mainstream virtual plant groups]. People’s posts were getting taken down, and it just wasn’t feeling very fair. We weren’t feeling heard,” Nussman-Berry said. “So, I just decided that we were going to do something different and have a place where we can all just come together and be able to be ourselves.”

Since Nussman-Berry started the social media group in 2020, ‘Black Planters’ has accumulated nearly 45,000 members located around the world. Nussman-Berry said that a significant portion of the Facebook group’s members reside in the Atlanta area, which motivated her to choose the city as the location to host the first in-person social event. She said she’s eyeing other major American cities to host future events, before hopefully making her venture global.

“Right now, we are hoping to do New York next and I think Chicago,” Nussman-Berry said. “The bigger cities tend to be more predominantly Black, so that’s cool. That’s where a lot of our members [are located].”

Neti Hamilton, an environmental public health practitioner working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was one of the event’s participating vendors. Her business, Ezra’s Emerald, is a plant marketplace and consultation service with a long-term goal of bringing about awareness and communal action to the climate crisis.

“I don’t just run a plant shop. I have the intention of cultivating the relationship between humans and their environment one house at a time to help address the climate change agenda,” Hamilton said. “So that’s what this shop is doing, not only [selling] plants, but kind of [proliferating] an idea of environmental conservation and preservation.”

Hamilton said her goal is to transform Ezra’s Emerald into a full-time pursuit, where she can combine her interests in environmentalism and fostering community into one practice. She also said she aims to use her platform to give Black planters and environmentalists their flowers when it comes to developing actions and habits that benefit the planet.

“I feel like Black and brown people, we’ve been doing this. We just aren’t getting the credit for it,” Hamilton said. “So, to be able to highlight us and to bring us to a stage that’s deserving and showing and telling of enough of what we are doing [is important to me].”

Candas Nichole holds one of her signature planters. Credit: Janelle Ward / The Atlanta Voice

Licensed cosmetologist Candas Nichole also set up a booth on Saturday, selling custom, hand-sculpted and -painted planters donning images of Black women and public figures. She creates art and beauty products and other marketable accessories as a full-time entrepreneur.

“I am an artist all around,” Nichole said. “I [also] make jewelry and handbags. I make everything, and that’s something that I do full-time.”

Nichole’s planters combine her many trades into one product, as she designs her figurines to wear makeup and a variety of natural and protective hairstyles. She said she aims to open a brick-and-mortar store in the future that provides a spa-like wellness experience for customers, that also allows them to take home merchandise that reminds them of their visit.

“Everything that I do is all about uplifting, motivating, inspiring [women],” Nichole said. “I love men, too, but I love to see women happy and feeling free and feeling beautiful and empowered.”

In the future, Ashley Nussman-Berry plans to service the Black plant community in ways beyond hosting itinerant social events. 

‘Black Planters’ is also part of Facebook’s Community Accelerator program, an initiative from Meta that helps online collectives impact their communities by equipping leaders with connections, coaching and funding to be used to expand their outreach. Nussman-Berry contributed funds she received from the program to organize the social, and intends to use more of the funding to foster an interest in horticulture across Black youth, and to establish communal gardening spaces within Black communities nationwide.

“We need spaces where we can just be. We don’t have to censor ourselves and change who we are,” Nussman-Berry said. “It’s cool because we all come from similar backgrounds, and a lot of Black people in America, they have ancestors who were slaves, so it’s cool. It’s like reclaiming gardening and making it ours.”