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