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A Fern Grows in Newark

Get to know Fern and Fossil, a unique woman-owned endeavor founded in Newark NJ, and bringing plants to the people! I spoke with co-founder Samantha Katehis about the wonderfully global, yet local origin story of her company. It involves a stirring vision of an urban future with hydroponic apartment gardens, a yearlong road trip, and succulents

 Read on, then visit Fern and Fossils and their work throughout Newark NJ. Take a workshop like their new Meditate, Plant, and Sip, or book a private event for friends!

“Fern & Fossil provides all-inclusive instructional workshops on terrarium building and plant care. Terrarium building allows participants to explore their creativity and learn about plant maintenance in an approachable & sociable way. By layering sand, earth & rocks, we create a tiny environment for plants to grow. Each terrarium can be personalized using moss, stones & bespoke ornaments. All Fern & Fossil participants create a unique finished project to take home. 

Fern & Fossils

Some chat with Samantha:

S: Do you want the long convoluted story of how I got into plant care at all?

E: I would love the long convoluted story! (Dear reader, if you know me, you know I walk a long road to meaning, with pleasure, which I fail to see a need to hurry along)

S: In 2011-2015 I was completing a Masters in Industrial Design at Pratt Institute, and in my second year I was given the opportunity to study abroad as part of the pilot program for a global innovation design partnership between Keio Media Design in Tokyo Japan, and Royal College of Art in London, and Pratt Institute in New York. It was a three-way exchange and each of us spent roughly the same amount of time in each country. The group was given a really broad topic, which was food, and my cohort looked at food security, so I learned a lot about access to food, and food deserts. So one of our design solutions, after research, was creating an aesthetically pleasing hydroponic setup that could be affordable. You shorten the chain of how many hands have to touch the food: you only grow the food you need! My New York partner, Steve Kirkland, has a similar background as I do; he grew up in an urban environment, in Camden, NJ. I grew up in New York, and then when I was 11, my family moved to Newark. So we both discovered that neither of us knew how to grow anything from a seed….how are you going to have a garden in your living room…how long does it take and what is the process?

E: I think most people don’t. It’s probably not a skill held by the majority of Americans at this point…

S: You can make a terrarium with succulent plants or foliage plants. Succulents are trendy right now, but there is a reason for that: they are easier to care for! My interest in this kind of knowledge is about applying it to an urban environment, where there isn’t a lot of space, and hydroponics might need to come into play. So I graduated, and I knew I wanted to develop a series of products that were geared toward getting kids interested in learning about plants and being comfortable with plants. I got into the terrarium building as the first step. At the time (co-founder) Beatriz Burgos had just gotten back from a yearlong road trip around Colorado, and I was figuring out what this business was going to look like! Local artist Vasquez connected us, and we started doing workshops. I love what I do and I view it as the first step in a longer process, and so that’s how Fern and Fossil was born.

E: What’s been exciting in terms of new developments?

S: The mission keeps evolving, in addition to terrariums; we’ve done some science and sustainability-focused workshops, about growing mycelium. It’s been exciting to branch out to towns beyond Newark. We’ve also been exploring ways of being plant-focused in terms of the things we produce. For example, mycelium can be a building material. We have soaps and lip balm coming out too. We did a workshop with artist Kate Eggleston where people could learn how to do traditional shibori dyeing techniques with fabric. Collaborating has been so important. The Newark arts community is great: we’re working with Leslie from I’m so Yoga Newark, and through Lowell (director of Index Art Center) temporarily opened up shelf space at Art and Artifacts of Newark. 

Fern & Fossils

Fern & Fossils

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A fern grows in Newark, folks. Be part of it all.

Evonne M. Davis and Emma Wilcox are working artists and cofounders of a Newark alternative arts nonprofit. Begun in 2003, Gallery Aferro offers exhibitions featuring local, national and international artists, a wide range of public events, a year-round studio residency program, educational offerings, group tours, a publication line, a gift shop and public art initiatives.