From an early age Alex Booker knew the importance of having hands in the soil. Booker’s grandparents were farmers in Mississippi, a skill that turned out to be generational.
“I had always been doing indoor plant care and garden maintenance, but this was my first time really getting out there.” says Booker, reflecting on the start of his business journey with Booker Botanicals, an urban agriculture business based out of Black Earth. As he shared more about his business and spoke excitedly about all the possibilities the future holds, Booker opened up about how the foundational skills he uses are rooted in his k-12 education.
Alex Booker went to all east Madison schools (Hawthorne, Schenk, Whitehorse, La Follette). Booker’s time at Whitehorse was unlike any of the years before. The district had just redone school bus lines in an effort to diversify the schools which created a more collective learning environment for students like Alex to thrive. Once Booker headed into 9th grade at La Follette High School, he recognized he did best when he took his more challenging classes such as math and science in the fall, and arts and literature in the spring. For Booker, he realized that his learning too was linked to the seasons.
Booker started delving deeper into the sciences his at La Follette because of a teacher. “Mr. Harris was my freshman biology teacher who recognized my interest and encouraged me to take honors courses sophomore year. For me it had less to do with the subject, and so much more about how it was taught. A great teacher changes everything.”
Once Booker graduated from La Follette High School in 2016 he went to Edgewood College, where he struggled to find his footing. “Edgewood was tough because my k-12 schooling was so diverse, and Edgewood was not. I was used to being surrounded by a variety of cultures and races, I started to feel like I didn’t belong there.”
During Booker’s time at Edgewood, he was active in social justice clubs, becoming a voice on campus for the black and brown students. Things were looking up for Booker when he became an RA for one of the dormitories and found a group of friends that made him feel at home. It was not until the 2017 elections when someone broke into his apartment that he realized Edgewood was not a place for him. “After the 2017 election, there were a lot of hate crimes on campus. Alongside my aunt losing her long battle with cancer, I realized Edgewood just was not for me. So, I dropped out.”
Booker then spent time working for a few non-profits in and around Madison, but something deep within him was pulling him back into the garden. In 2021 he gave into his passion and Booker Botanicals was born.
Business at Booker Botanicals has been booming since the very beginning. “I sold vegetables within the first few months. I did small workshops here and there with food systems and food sovereignty, and people started to notice.”
In addition to Booker Botanicals, he also works at Badger Rock as the assistant farmer for their MSCR (Madison School & Community Recreation) workshops. They also have nine chickens on the Badger Rock farm plot that the students help raise and are active beekeepers. Although they mainly work with the students at Badger Rock Middle School, the program also serves people in a senior living community.
Booker re-enrolled at Edgewood college this past summer with plans of becoming a therapist in the black and brown community and opening a holistic retreat center after graduating in 2025. Although he will be back in the books, ensuring his community has access to healthy farm to table options is his top priority. He will continue to sell products privately and at farm stands across Madison.
You can find Booker Botanicals on Instagram and Facebook to bring healthy and local farm products to your kitchen table this season.