Archive for April, 2012

“Behind the Wheel” posts are my experiences and perceptions during this project and how I’m holding up on the journey.

My family thinks I’m nuts. As do my friends, some acquaintances, a few colleagues, the majority of farmers I’m visiting and about 90% of all strangers that cross my path.

“You’re doing what, girl?!”is the milder of the average question posed at me when I pull up in my 22-year-old station wagon, still rockin’ the wood panels on the side, with homemade curtains (to cover my 7-month stash of supplies, gear and life necessities) billowing in the wind.

And after I explain that I’m driving 12,000 miles around the country interviewing farmers of color by myself – as if it’s the most common response in the world – “You’re crazy, girl,” is always the definitive closure to that conversation.

And maybe I am. Thus far, after four weeks on the road, I’ve already slept in 11 different homes, driven about 2,000 miles, subsisted on peanut butter, trail mix and pretzels between farms and gotten lost more times than I care to admit at the moment (I’m also not going to admit that I’m driving with a GPS).

It’s been amazing though. I live for this – regardless of how crazy it makes me. I just see it a different way. I see it is as being blessed with the opportunity to be welcomed into the homes of amazing change-makers, beautiful souls and wise, weathered mentors who are imparting their knowledge, memories and profound visions for the future onto me.  All I can think is “How did I get this lucky? How is this my job?”

Maybe you just have to be a little crazy to seek out the work you love.

The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour: Currently along the Gullah coasts of South Carolina and Georgia!

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Renard Turner rakes in fresh seeds in March on Vanguard Ranch, Gordonsville VA

From The Button Farm in Maryland, I found myself on a beautiful 94 acres of land, tucked into the wooded hills of Gordonsville, Virginia. This land has been nurtured and stewarded by Mr. and Mrs. Turner, as well as a large herd of goats, for the last 11 years.

Vanguard Ranch raises Myotonic goats for meat. (Known as fainting goats because of their tendency to stiffen up and fall over!) They sell curried goat, goat kabobs and goat burgers to their larger community by traveling to festivals and fairs in their mobile kitchen, while also marketing to local food stores. (Goat is the most commonly consumed red meat in the world!)  They also grow a variety of vegetables which are sold to the Local Food Hub in Charlottesville, VA, because as Renard says ” You’ve got to have more than one avenue of income stream.”

My time on Vanguard Ranch was spent keeping up with the fast-moving Renard during his busy days of tending to the land, spring seeding, tending to the goats and the fencing that keeps the goats in. Not to mention making stops around town to buy seed, feed and attend community events like the screening of the film The World According to Monsanto, hosted by the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and other groups that are suing Monsanto for their practices with GMO seeds.

Renard and Chinette were a family passionate about self-sufficiency, having moved from Washington D.C. to Virginia in the 70’s with a desire to be fully independent and sustainable on their own land. They are firm believers in the ideology that self-sufficiency equals freedom, because “being dependent on broken systems is simply not sustainable.” With their thriving business rooting from their own land, they are paving the way to freedom for us all.

Goats on Vanguard Ranch hit their horns together in playful affection

Renard and Chinette Turner pose in their home at Vanguard Ranch

These posts are just snippets of the interviews for The Color of Food  photo documentary book! Next stops on the tour are along the coasts of North and South Carolina, holla at me!   And check out the NEW Color of Food website!

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Starting at the Roots

I hit the road last week and had my first interview in a place that was fitting for portraying one of the largest roots of our country’s agriculture industry and a significant piece of history that formed the painful relationship with African-Americans and farming.

The Button Farm Living History Center in Germantown, Maryland is a plantation-slavery education and farm project run by Anthony Cohen, a Black historian turned farmer/ immersion experience educator.

He started the Button Farm after providing a slavery immersion experience to Oprah in order for her to prepare for her role in Beloved. He realized this was not only an educational experience that people would actually seek out, but a way of preserving the contributions and culture African people brought to this country’s early agricultural system.

The farm blossomed into more than just a historical, educational experience but, through the demand of the community, it also became a fully operational farm, providing CSA shares with heirloom vegetables, eggs and even firewood. Visitors can tour the farm and learn of the many heirloom vegetables (such as the Maryland Fish Pepper) and heritage livestock breeds (such as the Cotton Patch Geese, pictured below) being raised there that trace back to the days when African slaves were growing and raising the same line of seeds and animals.

The Cotton Patch Goose is a natural weed eater and therefore was used by Southern cotton farmers, during but especially after emancipation of slavery, to weed between the rows of cotton. The geese are now almost extinct but were in abundance in the South up until the 1950s. The Button Farm has 6 Cotton Patch Geese and is preserving the woven history with this heritage breed during the African slavery era.

Anthony Cohen feeds one of the Cotton Patch Geese on The Button Living History Farm

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