In my new book, From The Root, I share solutions that depart from the antiquated and default positions of raising taxes and slashing federal budgets which have been inadequate attempts to address our economic, political, and social imbalances. Our current economic models are reinforcing an unstable and unsustainable environment.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Taja Sevelle. A Minneapolis native, Taja was accepted into the Berklee College of Music in the same week that she was offered a record deal from the legendary, Prince. The first song she wrote, Love is Contagious became a charted Billboard hit in America, reaching Top 7 in Europe. Taja has written songs with renowned songwriters Burt Bacharach, Thom Bell, Prince, and Nile Rodgers, among others. She has singing and songwriting credits on over 3.5 million CDs sold. A noted humanitarian, Taja founded Urban Farming, a 501c3 with the mission to “Create an Abundance of Food for All in Our Generation.” The organization began by planting 3 community gardens of free food in Detroit. There are now over 65,500 gardens in 61 countries around the world that are a part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain®. The work of Urban Farming ignited a global movement and has been featured on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, Good Morning America, CNN, NPR National, the BBC, Fox National, USA Today, The New York Times and over 30,000 other media outlets. Taja’s new book is titled From the Root, A Memoir and A Philosophy for Balance in Our World. The book is a roadmap for healing our world from the root. She has also written 3 novels. Taja speaks all over the world and has been a keynote speaker in more than 85 press conferences including the Yale Sustainable Agriculture Panel; The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Songwriters Panel in New York; the National Black Caucus Panel on Food Deserts in Washington, D.C. and The Farm Credit Council Convention in Washington, D.C. She has received several notable awards for her philanthropic work.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Taja! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Myjourney began because I wanted to help uplift our world, and I loved to sing. I started singing in bands and working as a DJ at KMOJ radio in Minneapolis, and I also produced a radio program about healthy eating. My journey accelerated when I began my recording career with Prince, who offered me my first record deal. A few years later, when I recorded my third CD on Sony Records in Detroit, Michigan, I became aware of the severe job loss, food insecurity, and massive amounts of unused land in Detroit.
This led to the next “calling” in my life when I put my music career on the “back burner” to start the 501c (3), Urban Farming®. I founded Urban Farming with $5,000.00 and three community gardens of free food. There are now over 66,000 gardens in over 60 countries that are a part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain®.
Through my experiences in the music business, as well as 15 years of “boots on the ground” with Urban Farming in rural, suburban, and urban communities, I saw a real need to bridge the gap of misunderstandings between various groups of people. The gap occurs in both challenged communities and affluent communities. I also realized that we cannot slash federal budgets low enough or raise taxes high enough to address the amount of wasted capital that we are bleeding out every day because we are so out of balance. This led me to write my first non-fiction, From The Root, A Memoir and A Philosophy for Balance in Our World. The book is about healing our world from the root and creating abundant balance, and in it, I share solutions to economic, political, and social imbalances, along with with anecdotes from my journey, as well as eight years of research.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The work of Urban Farming created a global trend and affected policy. One of our major endeavors was a multi-million dollar project with Kraft Foods and the Triscuit Cracker. This two-year project included planting 65 community gardens in 21 cities across the United States. Ellen DeGeneres featured us on her show, and built a garden on the set of her show, promoting the project all summer in 2010. The project was also featured on the back of 28 million boxes of the Triscuit Cracker and received over 30,000 media stories worldwide. This created a tipping point for community gardeners around the world. Community gardening had not received that kind of attention and funding since the World War II Victory Gardens. Prior to the work of Urban Farming, community gardeners were having trouble receiving funding or returned calls from their local mayor’s offices. Now, community gardening is a part of most municipal planning and has been heavily funded. Urban Farming is now a buzz-word in our society.
In my new book, From The Root, I share solutions that depart from the antiquated and default positions of raising taxes and slashing federal budgets which have been inadequate attempts to address our economic, political, and social imbalances. Our current economic models are reinforcing an unstable and unsustainable environment. Instead, one of the disruptive and effective solutions that I propose is what I call, HI Bonds — Human Infrastructure Bonds — which strengthen and rebuild the human infrastructure of our communities around the world. Like municipal bonds that are utilized to strengthen the physical infrastructure of our roads, bridges, schools, etc., the HI Bonds focus on the human infrastructure of our communities, in perpetuity. This solution also provides a coexistence investment opportunity for public and private partnerships to create abundance, balance, prosperity, innovation, and productivity in rural, suburban, and urban communities.
A compelling economic reality that helped to inspire this idea is that the United States alone is wasting over $6.2 trillion each year. Some of the areas of waste that I have pinpointed in my new book are crime, educational achievement gaps, obesity, and other health issues, mental health, and poverty. When we recapture and reallocate that wasted capital, we will never have to raise taxes or slash federal budgets again. In the same way that companies conduct a supply chain analysis to determine strengths and weaknesses, we attend to our areas of imbalance within communities, to “stop the bleeding” of capital. The Human Infrastructure Bonds specifically address the following areas that need to be strengthened within our communities: Healthy Thinking, Healthy Communication, Healthy Eating, Healthy Fitness, Healthy Finances, Healthy Education, and Healthy Families. When we take these steps and invest in our human capital within these areas, we are investing in healing from the root, rather than slapping temporary bandages on a problem that will go septic if we continue down this rocky path. I’d much rather experience a level of balance and abundance for all in our world that humankind has yet to see, and my book provides a roadmap to that abundant, joyful future. I want to reiterate because this is such an important point: investing in our human capital helps balance our communities. As we become more balanced in these areas, we can continue to reinvest into our communities, in perpetuity. As communities become more abundant, the reinvestment in our human capital creates a perpetual cycle of prosperity and balance that is achievable within a much shorter time period than most would think. This is also an essential part of healing our relationships and our world from the root — really getting to the root of our issues. As we adjust and re-design antiquated economic, political, and social structures, we create and sustain an abundant future for all. Frankly, that future just sounds like a lot more fun to me.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
Prince was an amazing mentor for me, not only in the music business, but in the area of social consciousness as well. We both shared a heart for helping our human family, and we’ve had hours of conversations about ways in which to contribute to the well-being of this world. He was a great supporter of Urban Farming. As artists, we grew to understand more and more about the impact that our lyrics, words, and actions have on the world. I enjoyed a 33-year friendship with Prince and was blessed to have him in my life.
Another amazing mentor of mine was my godmother, Teretha Moore. She passed away too soon, but she blessed me with 17 years of her deep wisdom and guidance. She was an extremely well-respected District Missionary in Detroit, Michigan and I have grown tremendously through her support and direction. Teretha saved my life during a particularly tough time — she was divinely placed on my path. Shortly after she came into my world, I was able to bring myself “back to life” and I founded Urban Farming.
I am grateful to have had many remarkable mentors and I mention them in my book. My husband is also an extraordinary “old soul” who has blessed me so much, and to whom I am so grateful. He is a rare gem who has given me deep wisdom and guidance. His input helped me to make key adjustments to the business model of Urban Farming during a great period of expansion for the charity.
In my opinion, true wealth is comprised of peace within and the people I call “gem-friends” — the friends in our lives who are the rare gems of unconditional love, support, wisdom, and joy.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- My grandfather used to say: Keep healthy habits. I have found that advice to be so important in my life. When I was younger, there was a period when that advice fell on deaf ears, but fortunately, I came to my senses fairly rapidly and I’ve been able to keep healthy habits for the larger part of my journey. It has made all the difference in the world for my creativity, health, happiness, and perseverance. He also taught me how to “know when I don’t know.” This means, to be willing to seek out information, allow others who know more to provide guidance, and to recognize my strengths and weaknesses. This understanding leads to the ability to strengthen weaknesses, the flexibility to change strategies or business models when necessary, and the wisdom to know when I am on the right track.
- Words have the power to build up a city or burn a city down (Proverbs 11:11). I used to take pride in my abilities in the area of verbal slaughter. But as I experienced more in my life, I had several personal awakenings. One of my most significant personal awakening came when I realized how damaging my words had been to others and to myself. I was on my knees crying when this awakening hit me. From that point on, I applied serious discipline and study to learn more about how to “build up” with my words rather than to tear down. Now, I am doing everything I can to bring this awareness to our world. I devoted a chapter about Healthy Communication in my new book, From The Root.
- Two incredible women, Teretha Moore and Sally Slice-Watson, both taught me how to “…be wise in my dealings.” When I was in my late teens, Sally would sit patiently as she listened carefully to my problems, and then she would share wise guidance- many times about keeping the focus on me, rather than the actions of others. Teretha would do the same, and she would often suggest that I ask G-d to give me “…what to say, when to say it, and how to say it” before entering into difficult conversations or circumstances. I have used her advice many times, before meetings or key moments when I was unsure of how to handle a situation.
How are you going to shake things up next?
Healthy Communication! I think that Healthy Communication is one of the most important elements needed for our world right now. My husband and I have written a new TV series that addresses Healthy Communication in a highly entertaining fashion. Montel Williams is the host of the show which is titled, Resolution with Montel. We are very excited about how rapidly this series will help to heal, restore, and reshape centuries of broken relationships and families; unfortunate conflict; war-based economies; judgmental, argumentative behaviors and thoughts; and even traditional approaches to storytelling.
Additionally, I have an exciting new fiction book that I am finishing, along with new music, two other TV series that I’ve co-written, as well as a movie script. In each of these creative outlets, I have incorporated the fundamental root principles that I share in From The Root, which will help to bring balance to our world.
On other fronts, my husband and I have some very exciting projects that will also help to transform the way our human family interacts with one another, bringing us closer to a future that provides happiness and abundance to all. It’s all very much in the “Tomorrowland,” vein, but I really see the “Tomorrowland” that Walt Disney visualized and started to bring to life. I see a beautiful future for our human family.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
Throughout one of the times that I lived in New York City, I was doing quite a lot of studying and writing. During that time, I came across a book that Dr. Martin Luther King wrote titled, The Strength to Love. The book is extremely deep and well written, and it taught me so much about the common chords that each human carries within. These chords are struck on the “notes” of forgiveness, love, and empathy. That may seem to be cliché, but in actuality, those “notes” are the most potent factors in the human equation. The more I study these elements, the more I understand that they are the very foundation of our well-being.
Additionally, the work of Dr. Marshall Rosenberg with Nonviolent Communication, the work of Deepak Chopra, the work of Peter Wholleben in his book, The Hidden Life of Trees, the work of Michio Kaku in his book, Hyperspace, the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh (whose work my husband connected me to), and so many more have also inspired me greatly. And, I don’t want to forget some of the music that has deeply affected me — in particular, Earth, Wind, and Fire had a great impact on me in high school. The combination of their wise lyrics and excellent, moving music changed my life. Earth, Wind, and Fire ministered to me, and it continues to do so, providing me with inspiration, exuberance, and healing.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Well, that falls into the category of a few of the projects that I am working on right now, particularly the messaging of this book. The messaging of my music, TV series, and novels is also aligned with the principles of my book. One of the key projects that I want to see happen right away is the coexistence investment in the HI Bonds — the Human Infrastructure Bonds. As I mentioned, specifically, these bonds are designed to attend to the fundamental root principles of: Healthy Thinking, Healthy Communication, Healthy Eating, Healthy Fitness, Healthy Finances, Healthy Education, and Healthy Families. When we strengthen these areas in our homes, schools, workplaces, and in our policies around the world, we will bring our human family into balance. Investors will see a high level of return on their investment. I encourage universities, insurance companies, banks (including foreign central and foreign commercial banks), private investors, foundations, and municipalities to invest in the human infrastructure of our communities.
Consider this: according to the U.S. Accountability Office, crime is costing the United States up to $3.4 trillion per year. That illustrates a society that is highly out of balance. When we invest in our human infrastructure, similar to how we rebuilt Japan and Germany after WWII, we will see a high level of ROI and a new level of wealth for all in our world.
Another compelling economic argument for one of the fundamental root principles that I cover, healthy communication, is the following: according to a Towers Watson study, companies that have healthy communicators as leaders pass on 47% higher earnings to their shareholders over a 5-year period. And… according to the IEP (Institute for Economics and Peace), if we had been just 25% more peaceful in the year 2010, the world economy would have reaped an additional $2 trillion.
These examples illustrate the economic value of creating balance in our communities and investing in our human infrastructures.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Speak things as though they are. I have found that “speaking things as though they are” coupled with staying inside of the FEELING of my visions and creations, has proven to bring them to me each time. When we focus on the “fight,” we keep ourselves in the fight. When we focus on the solution, we bring forth the solution.
It is not always easy to maintain, but with practice, it becomes easier. I have to work at it a lot sometimes, but when I’m in the groove, it is second nature.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Tajasevelle.com has all current news, scheduling, social media information, and information about new music and books.
Also, please visit urbanfarming.org for the latest on what Urban Farming is contributing to our communities.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you so much for having me! I appreciate it very much.