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Wild Ones

Urban Farmer Indy Srinath’s Pup Okra Lives the West Coast Granola-Fantasy Life

Some dogs get dog treats. Okra gets farm-fresh popsicles and foraged kelp.

by Emma Loewe
October 11, 2022
Indy, a woman with brown deadlocked hair, sitting next to a sunflower outside while holding a blind white dog named Okra
Photo: Roxy Rodriguez

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Fresh food is Indy Srinath’s love language. Whether she’s brewing tea from homegrown herbs or sizzling up the tasty treasures from her latest mushroom forage, the botany expert, urban farmer, global forager, and author is happiest when eating, drinking, and sharing the land’s bounty. 

Srinath — a.k.a. Indy Officinalis on Instagram — has spent most of her adult life with her hands in the dirt across the U.S. These days, she’s getting her hands dirty in her upcoming series, Farming Is Life, on National Geographic, where she’ll show you around some of the most innovative farms out there.

indy srinath
Photos courtesy of Indy Srinath

Over the past few years, the North Carolina native has put down roots in Los Angeles to help manage a rooftop farm that serves the houseless population of LA’s Skid Row. She also has a thriving backyard garden of her own, and she’s in the middle of starting a new community urban farm in the Leimert Park neighborhood. It might go without saying, then, that her rescue dog, Okra, is one very well-fed pup.

When Srinath rescued Okra — who is completely blind — from a dumpster in New Jersey, she promised him he’d never be food insecure again. Now, Okra basks in farm-fresh flower popsicles and kelp from the sea. Her “adventure buddy” even has his own little special section of her garden filled with pet-friendly treats and an open invitation to tag along on her back during foraging trips.

As The Wildest learned, Srinath and Okra navigate nature in search of something delicious — often finding it in each other’s company.

Photo: Roxy Rodriguez

How’s your day going so far? Does it feel like fall in LA yet?

It’s been a pretty chill day. I bought this giant pumpkin candle — I’m one of those pumpkin spice people — that I’ve been burning all day which feels so nice. It kind of does! I have a few persimmon trees in my backyard, and they’re starting to ripen, and that signifies the beginning of fall for me.

Sounds lovely. What else is blooming in your yard at the moment?

We had a heat wave a week and a half ago, so I had to kind of let everything go to a crisp and start over with new seeds, which is exciting. I just sowed a lot more fall things: kale, broccoli, and sunflowers.

Is Okra curious about anything growing in your garden?

He’s always really curious, so it’s cute. I planted him a raised bed with stuff that he can eat. There’s some red okra, calendula, and marigold growing in there. I put him in, and he kind of stumbles around and helps with weeding. Obviously, I don’t think he knows exactly what he’s doing, but he loves to pull grass out of the garden and chew it while I’m gardening.

Photos: Roxy Rodriguez

That’s epic that he has his own portion of the garden. How did Okra come into your life? Were you looking for a dog or was it serendipitous?

It was definitely serendipitous. I was actually looking for a cat at the time. I wanted a pet, but my partner has an awesome rescue dog, and I thought that two dogs sounded like too much in our house. But I was working on an indoor farm in New Jersey, and I stumbled upon little Okra (his name was Benji at the time) on Petfinder. He was already missing one eye when they found him in a dumpster, and then his other eye was so infected that they had to remove that one as well. 

He was about a two-hour drive from where I was staying on the farm. I thought OK, the last day I’m working on this farm before I fly back to LA, I’ll just go and get him. And there happened to be a huge snowstorm that day…I was racing through this snowstorm by myself to pick up Okra, and I got to the shelter at the very last minute. I met him, and I just fell in love with him. And he was amazing on the plane. He just slept on my lap the whole time. He’s just been my little adventure buddy ever since.

indy srinath in garden
ALMA Backyard Farms
Photos courtesy of Indy Srinath

How did you land on Okra for his name? 

I focus a lot on growing plants that are native to West Africa, and I’ve really grown an appreciation for the vegetable okra because I feel like it's kind of polarizing — especially in the Black community. I used to hate eating okra growing up, and I thought it was this gooey, disgusting thing. Eventually, I started pickling it, and pickled okra is so delicious.

So I feel like I’ve had the biggest journey with okra (the vegetable!) and I was thinking about what a huge journey I was going on with this little dog, too. Okra is also such a resilient plant in the way that it was brought by Black folks from West Africa and cultivated here. And I feel like Okra the dog is really resilient, too. He has these little seeds inside of him; I feel like he has all this potential, just like okra the vegetable. I just also think it’s a cute name for him.

indy srinath in garden
Photos courtesy of Indy Srinath

He definitely looks like an Okra. Does he have a good sense of smell?

No, but it seems like he should. You’d think that maybe his other senses would be heightened. But he does have an incredible sense of direction. The way he’s able to navigate through my house and in the backyard is just mind-blowing to me.

I know you recently took him on his first foraging trip! Was he able to lead you to any gems?

No, he’s a pretty short little guy. I just let him hang out in my backpack, sniff the air, and wander around in areas that are safe for him and don’t have a lot of huge branches poking up. He kind of has his own little meditative journey. I like to think of him as this Great Meditator because he really makes me slow down and notice things that I wouldn’t notice before.

Can you share your foraging haul with him at all?

Yes! I’ll share any greens I forage: dandelion greens, nettle, and even seaweed is really great for dogs. So I’ll share the kelp I’ve foraged from the ocean with him. 

Photos: Roxy Rodriguez

Has he eaten okra yet?

He hasn’t yet! That’s why we’re growing it. He’s getting the full experience. 

That will be so meta when he tries it. What does he enjoy eating? 

He loves eating homemade popsicles. They’re pretty much just water and whatever edible flowers I have in the garden. Especially in the summer, I’m always so worried about getting him enough water because he can’t see his water bowl, and it doesn’t have a smell. I’ve just found that feeding him popsicles is an easy way to make sure he stays hydrated all day. He also likes eating watermelon and cantaloupe, dandelion flowers, blueberries, and peas!

And you have a new farm in LA now too. I saw that you have goats there to prepare the land for growing — has Okra met them yet?

Yeah, he did. He definitely did. I don’t think he likes the goats. He was really curious at first, but they still head-butted him. He’s really sweet and gentle with all other types of animals, but he realized that maybe goats aren’t his favorite companions.

They’re vicious! And your new show on National Geographic comes out soon. Was Okra able to visit you on set? 

Yes! When we filmed in LA, he came and visited one of the urban farms, so it was really nice. He loved it. I’ve spent a lot of time working on a lot of different farms throughout most of my adult life, and I’m excited for the show to come out so people can see all of the good that's being done out there.

Okra is such a little ball of joy. The way he walks and his tail is hilarious; he’s just very entertaining. Spending time with him has been really therapeutic for me. He’s this super gentle reminder to slow down and just enjoy being.

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emma loewe

Emma Loewe

Emma is a writer, editor, and environmentalist based in New York City. She is the senior sustainability editor at mindbodygreen, the author of Return To Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us (April 2022), and the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self-Care. While she doesn’t have any pets of her own, she is a loving dog aunt to Pip the pup.