It was a journey toward healthy living that led Ross, 31, to soil science. As a youngster, she was often sick, suffering from stomach pain, headaches, depression and extreme fatigue. In her 20s, she committed to discovering “what it truly means to be healthy” and came to realize that at the simplest level “you need to give your cells what they require in order to function, and you need to eliminate toxins that prevent your cells from functioning.” And that comes down to the food we consume. Ross says gut health, nutrient-dense eating and the connection between our emotions and our health are important ideas she’s taken to heart.
“My interest in soil science is borne from the marriage of my passion for understanding what healthy really means and of my love of gardening,” she says. “During this journey to health I was shocked to learn that the vegetables we eat are less nutritious than they used to be because our soils are nutrient-depleted and because current agricultural practices are centered on profit, not health.”
Armed with this knowledge and her experiences about living in a healthier way, Ross decided her life’s goal “involved learning everything I can about creating healthy soils and then helping farmers and gardeners” put that knowledge to practical use to grow healthy food for “themselves, their families and their communities.” This led her to North Carolina State University, where she is currently in the soil science graduate degree program in Durham.
But Ross also has an artistic side. She’s been photographing farms and gardens around North Carolina and further afield.
“There are truly so many interesting ways that people are growing food, and I want the world to see what these places and lifestyles look like,” she told Modern Farmer in an email. “So many people are disconnected from where one of their most basic needs, food, comes from, and I think there is a huge opportunity to change that while telling the stories of the farmers who feed the world.”
Her project, Grow Beautiful, had its genesis when she was hired to photograph the first few Farm to Fork picnics in North Carolina a decade ago. She says the experience of seeing the fresh food and the diners in a farm setting made a huge impression on her. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the project really took off, thanks to the many farmer friends she has made over the years.
“The farms are the most beautiful places, and the people are the most beautiful people in the world,” she says, but Ross admits she has a special fondness for shooting the apprentices at the Small Farm Unit at the university’s Center for Environmental Farming Systems, where she works.
Ross plans on combining her passions into a business that includes consulting services, photography and teaching that will provide “practical tools that farmers and gardeners can use to improve their soil health.” Currently, she has a newly launched blog, Staring at Plants, where she shares articles and videos about gardening, soil health and the farms and gardens she photographs.
She says she has “a big vision,” and believes “we really can create a more beautiful world, starting from the ground up.”