Cultivating Community: The Inspiring Journey of Starlit Roots Farm 

Welcome to the HealthMPowers Champion Series! Champions are advocates who are working towards advancing health equity, food and nutrition access, and mental wellness.​ 

Black smiling woman in hat stands in field holding green leafy vegetables.
Tianna Neal, Owner
Starlit Roots

In the heart of Keysville, Burke County, Georgia, on the historic grounds of the former Boggs Academy, Tianna Neal has embarked on a mission to cultivate a connection between people, the land, and their food. Starlit Roots Farm, in its fourth year of operation, is not just an organic vegetable farm – it’s a symbol of resilience, legacy, and community empowerment. 

Tianna’s journey began just before the pandemic, as a recent graduate of North Carolina A&T with a degree in agribusiness. After completing her studies, she enrolled in a class offered by HABESHA Works, a Metro Atlanta initiative to train beginner farmers in developing sustainable urban agricultural practices. 

“Before my work with HABESHA, I was like most people and got all my food from the grocery store, said Tianna.” “I had no idea of where my food came from or how to grow it. After I completed the class, I connected with an elder couple who grow organic food for the Keysville community. They brought me and a few other trainees onto the land where I currently farm.”  

The land that Tianna farms is the former location of Boggs Academy, a prestigious college-preparatory boarding school for Black students. Farming on these grounds, holds a deeper meaning for Tianna. It’s a legacy that she honors and a responsibility she embraces. The land, now Boggs Rural Life Center, serves as a reminder of the rich history and potential for positive change in the community. 

Guided by elder farmers in her community, Tianna established Starlit Roots to sell wholesale to the local school community. As with everything she does, she was intentional with the farm’s name. 

“The name, Starlit Roots, symbolizes the interconnectedness of everything it takes to grow food. The stars are made up of nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, and magnesium. Those elements make their way down through earth’s atmosphere into the soil. Our bodies also need these nutrients and minerals to survive, and we get them from the food that grows from the soil. It’s a beautiful interconnection. We can’t have one without the other.” 

Tianna’s vision extends beyond growing seasonal veggies; it includes providing farm education to the community, in the hopes of inspiring others to grow their own food. This is significant considering that Keysville is considered a food dessert. Food deserts can be described as geographic areas where residents’ access to affordable, healthy food options is restricted or nonexistent due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient traveling distance.  

“When I first started working this land, before I established Starlit Roots, we initiated a six-week beginning farmer program. We only had four or five participants, but they were all passionate about wanting to learn how to grow. It was such a beautiful time, but I was also able to see firsthand the major disconnect between individuals knowing where their food comes from and how to grow it.” 

“Since I started farming full time, I haven’t had as much time to teach, but whoever comes out here, I’m going to help them understand this work as much as possible. They will leave here knowing how to grow food. This is what inspires me the most, I want to bridge the gap between farmers and consumers to build a stronger, more connected community where everyone has access to fresh, locally grown produce.” 


In addition to teaching members of her community, Tianna has been an inspiration to someone much closer to home. Her younger sister, Alyse Neal, K-12 Health Educator, HealthMPowers.  Alyse’s experience living with Tianna during the pandemic marked her introduction to farming and ignited her passion for growing organic produce, herbs, and empowering others through education. 

Alyse Neal, K-12 Health Educator
HealthMPowers

Alyse feels a strong connection between the mission of HealthMPowers— to champion healthy habits and transform the environments where children live, learn, and play— and the work she does alongside her sister. 

“I’ve been at HealthMPowers for almost a year, said Alyse.” “I really want kids to know that they can go to farmers markets and that they have access to different types of foods at farmers markets that may not be available at the nearest grocery store.”

“I also want them to know that there are Black famers in the area, and encourage them to connect with and even visit farms for an educational experience on farming and produce. Through my role at HealthMPowers, I have come to realize that many children are unaware of where their food comes from or the possibility of growing it themselves. Our organization strives to reinforce this idea.”  

At HealthMPowers, we are fervent advocates for individuals and families growing their own food to ensure access to nutrient-rich options. Our programming includes teaching children and youth in K-12 schools and afterschool programs how to build garden beds, research seasonal crops, harvesting, and food preparation.


Starlit Roots faces unique challenges in addressing the issue of food deserts in the community. Tianna acknowledges the difficulty of selling organic produce at local markets, citing price disparities with non-organic produce. Despite this, she remains committed to serving her community and dreams of increased farmers’ markets at Boggs Rural Life Center. 

“It’s been challenging, but I’ve adapted to also sell at other places near the community. I sell at a local market in Augusta, which is also considered a food desert, but they’ve done a great job of educating the community on how to get produce through a subscription program and how to *double your SNAP benefits at farmers markets.” 

Tianna’s dedication to addressing food insecurity extends to local schools, where she participates in the farm to school program, supplying fresh produce to Burke County schools. She emphasizes the need for educational programs, like HealthMPowers, that inform parents and students about the benefits of farmers’ markets and healthy food choices. 

Looking ahead, Tianna envisions making Starlit Roots a profitable and sustainable business. Her goals include owning her own land, expanding wholesale operations, and becoming a dedicated educator. To other young farmers, her advice comes easily, “Find a mentor, get some hands-on experience, and avoid unnecessary debt!” Above all, she wants to feed her community. 

“I just want people to know that we’re out here growing.” 

Please support Startlit Roots by following on Facebook and Instagram.  


Listing of Black-owned farms in Georgia at the Black Farmers Index.  

*SNAP benefits are doubled at some farmers markets! Our amazing partners at Wholesome Wave have a comprehensive list of markets that participate in the Fresh for Less program. 

Author

  • Kristy Bond

    Kristy Bond, MPH, spearheads all aspects of HealthMPowers’ marketing initiatives. She takes the responsibility of crafting messages to influence outcomes very seriously and approaches her work with integrity and passion. Her previous experience includes marketing and PR roles in various sectors, including the executive branch of state government, public safety, healthcare and a presidential library and museum. In her spare time, she enjoys reading absolutely everything, off-the-beaten-path adventures, and loving on her nieces and nephews.