“TC” Collins first learned about farming as a toddler. Life has brought him full-circle to share knowledge with future generations.
YPSILANTI, Mich.—Takunia Collins, known to most people as “TC,” grew up rooted in nature and working with the Earth to grow and cultivate things. He didn’t think his family history would ultimately shape his future.
“It was a handed down tradition through my family lines,” Collins said of the three generations of farmers who preceded him. “They all owned land during the slave trade. When I was three-and-a-half or four years old, I learned how to grow cotton, corn, grapes, how to salvage walnuts, and more.”
He remembers learning by a “following the leader” method as a toddler, but didn’t really understand the lessons he was being taught by a host of uncles and aunts migrating northward from Virginia, Louisiana, and Alabama.
“Agriculture has always been in the family line,” Collins told The ‘Gander.
He can remember boyhood trips to local you-pick farms with his parents and three siblings; setting out at dawn in the family station wagon, packed with lunch baskets that would be emptied and replaced with the fresh produce like strawberries, okra, tomatoes, and peas.
The Journey Back to His Roots
Collins attended culinary school, letting his love of food and appreciation of how it’s cultivated take him to the kitchen. He worked professionally for several years, but was hit by a drunk driver in 1995.
He was told he was in a coma for six months. He can’t remember much from that time.
“I lost a lot of skills as a chef, so I just devoted my time to physical therapy and occupational therapy,” he said. “Having to re-learn how to walk, read, speak, spell, was hard. It did what was normal for me, and that gardening and farming. I started one seed at a time.”
A support system of friends and family helped Collins regain his strength and to pivot professionally back to his roots: farming. He had built a small, private operation when his daughter’s school project called for his expertise.
Growing Produce & Business
Today, Collins is the founder, executive director, and farmer at Willow Run Acres. The Ypsilanti farm passes on Collins’ knowledge to the next generation and to the community at large with farming and gardening classes for youth and adults.
He’s also pioneering an agricultural project, likely the first of its kind in the country.
“It’s an Underground Railroad gardening project,” he explained. “I’ve been working on this for quite a few years now. A lot of people are taught that the slaves went to the North and they got their freedom, but there was more to it than that.”
Enslaved Americans who escaped the brutalities of the South had to learn more than celestial navigation, according to Collins. They also learned about the plants they would encounter on their journey; some to be used for food, others as salves for wounds, and some plants as medicines.
Collins has a garden on the Ypsilanti property dedicated to growing these plants and educating children about them, and their important ties to Black history. He manages over 20 gardens in Michigan and Ohio.
Bottles-N-Backpacks | Thursdays | 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
Willrow Run Acres supplies fresh produce for this family-centered development and enrichment program.
Gardening Class | Wednesdays | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.