This is the last ‘Behind the Wheel’ post, as I am now off the road from the Color of Food / photo documentary tour, and am back home working to put the stories and images together from all the farmers of color I interviewed, so they can be shared far and wide!

This morning, I returned from the mechanic with heartwrenching news. In fact, I feel like I should have been wearing black with a prepared eulogy in hand.  Lucille, my home and the Color of Food headquarters for the last 5 months, is dead.

Miss Lucille was the 1990 Oldsmobile station wagon that carried me safely across the United States this summer to interview over 60 farmers for my photo documentary – the Color of Food.  She, after being garaged most of her life, drove thousands of miles for five months straight, endured over 100 degree temperatures, traversed dirt roads across rural America, climbed the steep mountains of the West and ventured through the isolated prairie lands of our Native reservations. And she did it all with style and grace.

This is the first time in my life that I’ve become attached to a material thing, so much so that I’m even blogging about it. But this beast of an automobile morphed into a real person for me and others who had the privilege to know her out on the open road. This car really had her own personality – she did things her way and took her sweet time doing it- but she gave me a priceless gift.

Not only did Lucille keep me safe for every moment on the road(living up to her namesake, B.B. King’s guitar who he claims saved his life), but she was responsible for getting me face to face with the many farmers this country needs to know:

Black farmers in the South who invited me into their homes and shared with me photos of their ancestors, stories of first buying their land, struggles of escaping disasters like Hurricane Katrina and the pride of providing for their families and communities from their own land.

Hispanic farmers on the border of Mexico transitioning from farmwork to owning and running their own farm businesses, or those that are farming the same land their family has farmed for 300 years, growing traditional foods and irrigating with the same indigenous practices that have been used in their region for hundreds of years.

Asian farmers who are introducing their traditional foods and vegetables into communities where food diversity is severely lacking, as are healthy alternatives.

Native American farmers who are proving that dry farming (no irrigation) is not only possible, but a way of life for many indigenous cultures in the driest parts of our country; while others fought battles with water rights in the face of drought -which is an extremely significant issue with a global farming community facing drought, climate change and an opressive movement of GMO/drough resistant seed takeovers. These farmers  invited me, an outsider, in to learn about sacred traditions with corn, traditional foodways and ceremony.

I never would have had the chance to spend this time visiting with and learning from so many of this country’s amazing and resilient communities and the people who are feeding them, had it not been for Lucille. She started as a gift from those who supported the Color of Food’s fundraising efforts, and now with her death (which only occurred once she was sure she’d gotten me safely back home), she’s ending as the gift that made this whole project possible. She worked hard to ensure all of these voices were captured, so I will work hard to make them heard.  

Thanks Lucy. I will miss you dearly.

Rice & Lowcountry

Lowcountry South Carolina was and still is rice country. Along the coast where the land is marshy and the heat is sticky, you can find a tiny grain growing that carries a story, a culture and an immense impact on today’s diet all over the world.

The culture of rice is beautiful worldwide. In places like Asia, India and Africa, rice carries significance for family traditions, spiritual ceremonies and culinary legends. Part of the history rice carries in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, however, also has a side that is not so beautiful. West Africans were skilled in cultivating rice on their land, and so when they were brought here and forced into slavery in the South, they were put to work in the malaria and mosquito infested swamps along the coast to start rice fields. With the skill and hard work of African slaves, the rice industry boomed and funneled money into the South’s economy. The success in rice launched the entire country’s agricultural industry and still today, the credit and benefits reaped never reached African-Americans.

Driving through the Lowcountry (named for its low land elevation), the remnants of rice and agriculture’s story here are visible everywhere, but you have to search for that deeper history for Africans and agriculture.

I found some of it on Freewoods Farm in ­­­­­­Burgess, South Carolina, north of Georgetown, SC, which is “the capital of rice”. O’Neal Smalls and his sweet sister, Geneva, have started this living farm museum to preserve the history of Black agriculture after the Civil War in the South. They are farming in the traditional way, using two mules (named Pete and Jake!) for plowing the land. They are raising vegetables, hogs and chickens and are also making homemade sugarcane syrup from cane they grow on their land. Their father used to own the exact land that they now cultivate. It was important to them to preserve the history of the area and remind us all of the importance of agriculture for Black people in this country.

As Geneva said to me, “ A lot of our history is not in the textbooks. After the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, you had 4 million slaves with no place to go, no one to put them up and they were just told that they were free. And really what saved them was land.”

Gullah culture

Further down the road lies Charleston, SC, which was the port where 3 out of 4 slaves brought to this country entered and were processed and auctioned (You can visit the Old Slave Mart Museum as I did while there).  Charleston is also one of the hubs of Gullah culture. Gullah culture is rooted in West African culture and has been preserved in the low country and Gullah islands of South Carolina. Much of that culture is centered around the language, rice, agriculture and traditional recipes.

I went to Gullah Cuisine, a Gullah restaurant in Charleston, owned by Charlotte Jenkins who has been cooking Gullah foods since she was 9 years old with recipes from her grandmother and great-grandmother. Their signature dish is the Gullah Rice, which is Gullah Spiced Rice with Chicken, Pork Sausage, Shrimp & Vegetables. I talked with her nephew, who helps run the restaurant there, and he thinks that the recipes for Gullah Cuisine are not just recipes but lessons. “What we want to do here is keep the Gullah culture alive. We’d like to have a school here and get the kids more involved in the culture and teach them the history.”

These posts are just small excerpts from the upcoming  COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary book! I just arrived back home from the 5 month tour interviewing farmer to farmer. So I will continue to post photos and stories here and on thecolorofood.org site! Bear with me as I am way behind on posts, still catching up from having limited web access on the road. Currently still posting from my time with mainly Black farmers in the Southeast, but more posts from Hispanic and Native farmers in other parts of the country are to come!!

My Sister’s Farm

Sisters, Joyce and Carol, making each other laugh on their farm in Burgaw, NC

Carol Jackson and Joyce Bowman are the coolest sisters farming this side of the Mississippi. As soon as I met Carol – nicknamed “Sensei” by those that know her well, for her bad ass jiujitsu skills – she invited me into her home and we sat and talked for hours, sitting stretched out on her wood floor petting her dog Sasha. We talked of the joy growing food gives her and her sister; we talked of the discrimination her eyes have seen growing up in the South; we talked of her frustration with the way her family’s farm land has changed since the city built a highway cutting off the natural drainage path, resulting in constant flooding of the soil.

Carol is a strong Aries woman (why we got along so well!) who taught self-defense classes for 15 years in Harlem. (And taught me a few moves there in her living room.) Both her and  her sister, Joyce, are retired special needs teachers; both raised in Burgaw, North Carolina on the family farm.

When Carol returned from NY to NC and saw her sister gardening, they had the idea to expand onto their empty family land to start My Sister’s Farm.  They are growing certified organic produce and are active members of the Southeast African American Farming Organic Network.

These posts are just small excerpts from the upcoming The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary book. Please remember to keep $upporting this journey and the farmers’ stories!

When driving on long, lone highways where everything is measured in mile markers, miles per gallon and minutes ’till the next restroom, you find yourself conforming to the numerical way of life.  Calculating the distance you’ve traveled, the number of places you’ve slept and the number of days the road still holds for you.  Those long drives allow for plenty of time to calculate and count like crazy; down to the number of nights spent in a tent, the number of days since your last shower and the precise number of hours you’ve spent on the phone with loved ones to make up for that loss of face time.

After 4 months straight on the road across this country, I can say I have done a lot of calculating while behind the wheel:  I’ve laid my head in 49 different places, driven almost 15,000 miles, traveled to 16 states,  picked up 2 hitchhikers (one of them an adorable feline, the other most likely my future husband), interviewed 53 farmers and taken roughly 3,500 photographs.

My conclusion of all these numerical musings? The numbers add up – it’s been an amazing journey.

A journey that I wish I had been able to share more of  here with you. But there hasn’t been much time when either my hands weren’t on the wheel,  on the shutter release or on the record button or when I’ve had access to internet. But that will just make the anticipation for the Color of Food/photo docu book all that much more intense, right? 😉

What I can tell you in my final 3 minutes of internet access here in the mountains of the West is this:  On this journey, I have witnessed food growing in every corner and crevice of this country. I’ve had the honor of meeting the wisest,  most innovative and giving people on this planet.  And I am receiving a priceless education in the history of many peoples of this country, in culture,  life, hard agrarian work, family, love  and freedom.  All of which I cannot wait to share far and wide.

Thanks for following me on  The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour! Still going strong for another month in the West. These “Behind the Wheel” posts are my experiences and perceptions during this project and how I’m holding up on the journey. Please remember to keep $upporting this journey and the farmers’ stories!

American Indian Mothers

Beverly and granddaughter, Allayla, with seedling on Three Sisters Farm

I found myself in Shannon, North Carolina, home to the Catawba and Carolina Siouan tribes and where Beverly Hall of American Indian Mothers and her family of Iroquois, Algonquian and Siouan peoples have been living and farming for generations.

It was when Beverly began to see the elders in her home health work not receiving enough food or receiving unhealthy food from government programs that her and her community started the food bank and community garden programs. “ We don’t want to be dependent on others,” says Beverly.

Out of this work came the farm, Three Sisters Farm, where beans, corn and squash are grown according to the Iroquois Three Sisters practice which is rich in mythological, botanical and cultural history and serves as a trio of complimentary nutrition.

American Indian Mothers has various programs in the garden, helping the community and preserving and portraying the contributions the Native community (as well as other communities) have brought to agriculture and food in the area.

These posts are just small excerpts from the upcoming Color of Food / photo documentary book.  The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour is currently en route through Texas, New Mexico and Arizona! Please remember to keep $upporting this journey and the farmers’ stories!

Tierra Negra

Tahz Walker and Cristina Rivera Chapman run Tierra Negra Farm , NC

I could write a book solely based on my visit with these two inspiring, beautiful souls. Their work, knowledge, experience and practices in community and land is priceless. I left Tierra Negra Farm with a hope that more young farmers like them will lead the way for the future of agriculture and community healing.

Tahz and Cristina are deeply involved with their community, both with fellow young people of color passionate about growing food and sustaining the land, as well as the elders and Natives of their area. “We have to understand when working the land here that people have their people beneath our feet,” says Cristina, “[their] mentorship and eldership is everything.”

Cristina and Tahz have helped start some great community initiatives, like their Just Us dinners, where they get together with their community for potlucks and a space to test out food/farming ideas and workshops. The need for the Just Us dinners was realized when they saw the food movement in Durham excluding people of color.

In an effort to save the many gems of information Cristina and Tahz shared for when the Color of Food book is out, I’m going to keep it short here (sorry! I will actually start shortening all the farmer profiles I post while on the road, it’s hard to type and drive!), though I would otherwise spill over here with their ideas and perspectives on race, community and farming.

‘Until the book! 😉

These posts are just small excerpts from the upcoming Color of Food / photo documentary book.  The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour is currently en route through Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico! Please remember to keep $upporting this journey and the farmers’ stories!

I took a detour last week and backtracked from Atlanta to Asheville, NC ( North Carolina keeps callin’ me back) to attend a conference I was invited to and to connect with the IATP Food and Community Fellows , most of which represent a dynamic group of people of color growing or focusing on food and food sovereignty for their communities.

Instead of trying to find the words to encapsulate each of these amazing leaders, I’ll let a few of them tell their stories here in IATP’s videos:

Valerie Segrest, Native Foods Educator

Valerie beleives that returning to traditional food systems is the most effective way to address health disparities prevalent in tribal communities

Don Bustos, Traditional Farmer

Don Bustos produces food on the same land in New Mexico that his ancestors have farmed for 300 years

Brahm Ahmadi, Social Food Entrepreneur

Brahm’s vision is to create a hub for good food and strong community in Oakland

Kelvin Graddick, Young Farmer

Kelvin sheds light on being a young Black farmer who is working the same land that his grandmother farmed in Georgia five decades ago

Thanks to Valerie, Don, Brahm and Kelvin for the inspiration! Click here for more fellow videos.

The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour: Currently en route through Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana! Holla at me if you know of farmers of color I should stop and see in these areas!