While Alabama and Wisconsin may share a strong agricultural background and presence, a transition between either would be a large change of pace for anyone unfamiliar with the new territory. This was the situation Sebastian Hassell was in when he and his wife made the move north from a small town in south Alabama into a much different cultural and agricultural landscape. After spending some time in the Green Bay area, they moved down to Madison, and Hassell knew it was time to start considering what he could build in the area.
Hassell recently took a position as an assistant farm manager at Troy Farm, an urban farm on Madison’s North Side, as a new member of the Rooted team. The opportunity comes as an accumulation of Hassell’s invigorated dedication to connecting with local growers and fellow agriculture enthusiasts. Hassell spoke about initially starting out in Madison through being in contact with Alex Booker who introduced Hassell to Andrea Richardson and Rebeca Chacon’s Firm Footing Farm outside Black Earth, Wisconsin.
“I hadn’t really grown anything at any scale since leaving home, so I said let me give it a shot,” Hassell told Madison365. “Let me see if this is something I really want to do. I used last season for collards, kale, and tomatoes, and I grew zucchini for the first time. Just being close to the land and the earth, and building some community with the folks out there at the farm.”
Possibilities and ideas of what could be accomplished have driven Hassell’s efforts so far, and establishing the Rudolph-Hassell Legacy Enterprises, LLC has allowed him to continue developing potential ways to bring quality food to the community. Part of bringing better food and food practices to the community is through raising food education and awareness around food production. Hassell came to the same conclusion in reflecting on just how valuable his childhood experience in farming was.
“When I was a kid, I didn’t really appreciate what I was learning. All I knew was that I was always out there working,” Hassell said jokingly, fondly recalling working with family in both growing food and landscaping as a child.
“I would go out to the farm last season, and it had me sitting back and reflecting that this is something that no school can teach. I was an expert at that before I knew how to do anything else. Now, I’m pursuing the path of food systems planning.”
Through programs like Community Supported Agriculture (CSA), Hassell hopes to start approaching his goal of providing affordable food for marginalized communities. Working with fellow growers like Alex Booker to launch CSA programs are pieces of what Hassell considers a move toward a more community-oriented approach to agriculture and overall relationship. Through both making food itself and education about the food people consume more available and accessible, overall health and wellness in the community can rise exponentially.
“It’s important to teach people small ways to get started with growing their own food,” said Hassell. “For example, you can get a few flower pots, some soil, and a couple of lights and you can start with herbs. I think the disconnect is a lack of information and that a lot of the information is not super accessible. If it is accessible, it’s maybe not come in a format that people will respond to well. Not everybody wants to go to a workshop, so I guess the challenge is finding a way to present something that is a big deal in a way that’s not really a big deal.”
Providing a better path to overall physical wellness is a crucial aspect of connecting community with agriculture. These same ventures of wellness truly speak to other aspects of Hassell’s life as well. Besides cultivating produce through the earth, Hassell also finds fulfillment in cultivating space for faith in people often alienated from traditional spiritual spaces. For that reason, Hassell started Reimagining Revival Ministries in 2018 to provide space for people in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Being Black and being queer, and frequenting queer spaces and things of that nature, I’ve found that there’s a definite need for affirming spiritual spaces for folks who have an expanded theology,” Hassell said. “Also, for a church to be what I believe the church is supposed to be, which is a justice-oriented group of folks who are also constantly examining their assumptions about the world … how we’re supposed to integrate both with other human beings and with the planet itself.”
With both spiritual and agricultural practices aligned around providing space and opportunity for people who are often left behind, it is no surprise that Hassell is dedicated to giving respect to those doing the hard, selfless work. Coming from working-class parents and now reaping the benefits from the skills and work ethic they gave him have shown Hassell how important it is that we all reflect on what opportunities we have been given, while also looking back to give respect to those who worked for us to have them.
“Part of the reason why it’s called Rudolph-Hassell Legacy Enterprises is because my parents were hardworking folks. They taught me some lessons that are translating very well to my life right now,” expressed Hassell, speaking on the importance of giving respect to people for doing work that is often overlooked by society both past and present.
“Those people did what they did, my folks and the people during the civil rights era and so forth, so that the next generation could go and have a better life.”