Telling the story of African American Food through gardening! So, I’m growing a Garden!

If you are like me and are exploring your ancestral history in America, you will find that in most census records your ancestors were most likely listed as Farm Laborers. Farming, tilling the land and growing our own food has always been the fabric of our blood even if we aren’t always aware of exactly who our ancestors were. They were brought here with the knowledge of the land and that lost art of growing our own food is being lost on each generation that passes. So, IM GROWING A GARDEN

As a chef & as I am exploring African American food ways, I realized just how much of the food those ancestral chefs before me explored, were grown by their own hands. Edna Lewis tells a story of farming and gardening from a little girl on her grandfather’s farm, in a farming town of emancipated slaves. My ancestors seemed to all been farmers and farm hands at some point in their lives after emancipations.

The truth is that many of the enslaved men and women brought to the new world, were brought here to farm and grow crop. Cotton, Rice, Tobacco, Sugar, etc, were all big money crops and the Europeans needed able people who knew how to work the land in order to make a profit. Many staples in African American Foodways were never indigenous to this land and were actually brought with the Enslaved. Watermelon, Black Eye peas, okra, Rice, are just a few of the crops brought with enslaved. They were the ones growing and cultivating the land and when they were given their freedom, they continued to survive from the food they grew themselves.

With the light of inflation and a global pandemic, I felt it was important for me to explore our food ways through building my first sustainable garden to use as I cook my way through the diaspora & to emulate the fresh farm to table experience of my ancestors. We have always been a people of the land and that didn’t change when our ancestors were enslaved. They tilled the land before and after enslavement. Much of southern & soul food is a melody of sustainable produce grown from our own hands, we are the original farm to table people & it is important that we find our roots back to the land. With rising food cost and food being modified in a way that produces less and less seeds, we can’t be sure what we are buying, and consuming is safe for us. So, this season as I explore the foods of my people and my family, I decided to build a garden for the first time.

I have decided that I will turn my back yard into a sustainable garden with some staple food items found in African American cooking. I am starting with a few garden boxes that I built myself and will expand on my vegetable garden as I go. Inspired by chefs of the past, like Edna Lewis, building this garden is allowing me to learn just how important it is as a Black Chef to grow what I cook.

My garden will contain a lot of the staples in African American cuisine from veggies to herbs! My seed list includes:

Tomatoes: Pink Heirlooms, Beef Stakes, & Culinary Blend Heirlooms

Bell Peppers: Red, Green & Yellow. The seeds for my bell peppers were purchased and saved over time from bell peppers Ive cooked. Save the seeds yall!

Herbs: Basil, Thyme, Parsley, Rosemary, Lavendar

Yellow & Green Zucchini because why not

Okra (gotta have okra)

Bulbs: Yellow onions, shallots, Garlic, green onions

Greens: Butter Lettuce, Arugula, Microgreens,

Rainbow Carrots

Flowers : Marigold, Nastruims, Cosmos, Zinna’s, Wildflowers & more

Being a black chef in America in an age where most of our contributions are being stripped from us, it is important that we realize the importance of growing food and learning the art of gardening because it was our Ancestors knowledge for growing food that created the cuisine we love today. The chefs that came before me are all chefs of the land and it’s important to tell their stories through gardening. One can never appreciate the art of food until one takes part in growing food. I am not looking for perfection and my first garden may not yield much but it is the act of starting this lost art, that allows me to tell our story of food. It allows me to hear the ancestors as they speak to me one crop, one dish, one story at a time!

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