Kyla Milberger

The Butterfly Lady

A matriarch’s metamorphosis is found in cultivating earth at work and at home after Roxanne lost her son to suicide.

The Butterfly Lady is a body of work that focuses on the Detroit agriculture community and a woman named Roxanne. Roxanne lost her son Jacoy to suicide six years ago, which left her in a distraught state where she was unsure of her purpose in life. After such a tremendous loss, Roxanne became depressed which would push her to pursue her dream in cultivating Earth at work and at home.

As a young girl, Roxanne was always fascinated by metamorphosis, transition, and change whether it was the growth of plants, foods, and even in the way people aged. When Roxanne’s grandmother introduced her to her own garden as a little girl, she fell in love with the idea of metamorphosis in agriculture.

“My grandmother, I used to watch her when I was 5, 6, 7, 8 years old, grow things.” 

Roxanne’s green thumb continued to grow when she was offered a position as a farm facilitator at the Charles R. Drew Transition Center Farm in Detroit, Michigan. 

There she was able to focus her skills and work in a more substantial space, which gave her the ability to grow more produce to be sold to local Detroit restaurants and public schools.

Roxanne uses her spiritual faith and beliefs to stay grounded and to keep pushing her to continue doing what she loves. Butterflies are a significant symbol throughout Roxanne’s life because they remind her of Jacoy. While documenting Roxanne in her gardens, both at home and at work, I was amazed as I watched the butterflies flock to her. I realized that so much of what drives Roxanne to do what she loves is to create a safe space for Jacoy to come home to.

“I look at the butterfly everyday, because it’s him. It reminds me of my son and him traveling over and over again. You can’t stop a butterfly from flying where it needs to be. And that was him - being a butterfly- moving around, over and over again, meeting different people, seeing different things.”

The urban farm and backyard garden give Roxanne a higher purpose in her life, which has led to the expansion of locally grown produce within Detroit.

Roxanne is an extraordinary individual who works exceptionally hard every single day. She is a dedicated mother, grandmother, wife, mentor, and farmer. She uses her passions to help heal herself and others.

“But I like my life, it led me to this. I love what I do. I let things be as they are - if they grow there, and they look good, I leave it. If I put it there, and it don’t look good, I make it look good. That's what I do.”

© Kyla Milberger 2023