In order to properly address food insecurity, resource inequality, and agricultural issues, Black voices and stories must be uplifted. Combatting the current food apartheid entails dismantling the colonist structures that get in the way of undeserved communities and their rights to nutrition. Although these are great systemic issues, we must also diversify our perspectives. This means unlearning traditional notions of resource distribution and learning historical and current contributions of Black and Indigenous individuals to the development of American food systems.
Deep Routes is a culinary and agricultural curriculum project that uplifts Black and Indigenous foodways, in support of Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) educators and learners, while also building a network of learning resources that affirm BIPOC culinary and agricultural stories. In the past year, they've released their 1st edition of Deep Routs: An Afro-Indigenous Culinary Curriculum. Their section “People & Places” highlights Black educators who have made significant contributions across agricultural and food history. This work and more can be explored and supported through their website, shop, patreon, and instagram (@deep_routes). The following celebration of these Black chefs, farmers, and educators are featured in the Deep Routes curriculum's “People & Places booklet”, which Anabel’s has adapted for this posting.
George Washington Carver
Illustration by Brittanie Mitchell for Deep Routes
Born on January 1 1864 in Missouri, George Washington Carver is among the most celebrated American scientists for his advancements in agriculture and education. In addition to being the most prominent black scientist of the early 20th century, he was a botanist, inventor, educator, artist, cook, and farmer. In 1896, Booker T. Washington, the first president of Tuskegee University, invited Carver to lead its Agriculture Department, where he taught for 47 years. George had a passion for supporting average farmers and aimed to make the results from his research as accessible as possible. During his time at Tuskegee, "he created a newsletter for farmers detailing how to optimally grow tomatoes, soy beans, sweet potatoes, peanuts, and several other crops" based on the experiments he conducted.
Moreover, George "established a traveling farm school, the Jesup Wagon, that later became the Tuskegee Agricultural Extension service for local Alabamian farmers who couldn’t attend the university. He also started an educational farm for students interested in learning agricultural methods". George was successful in teaching generations of black students farming techniques for self-sufficiency. Specifically, George created more than 300 different products from peanuts and discovered more than 100 uses for the sweet potato: innovations that contributed immensely to the economic improvement of the rural South. Despite his death in 1943, Washington Carver’s legacy strongly lives on through notions of sustainability, discovery, and unity.
“Let farmers’ institutes be organized, and all the methods of nature study be brought down to the every-day life of the masses. Let us become familiar with the commonest thing about us". -George Washington Carver
Illustration by Brittanie Mitchell for Deep Routes
"Lena Richard, born September 11th, 1892, was a chef, author, restaurateur, tv host and culinary instructor from New Roads, Louisiana". As a teen, Lana worked alongside her mother and aunt as domestic workers for a family. In her later teens, this family paid for Lena to attend the Fannie Farmer Cooking School in Boston, from which she graduated in 1918. Upon graduating, Lena returned to New Orleans and opened a home-based catering business that was quickly met with success. In 1937, Lena and her daughter, Marie Richard Rhodes, opened a cooking school where they taught private cooking classes around the city. Lena’s achievements were greatest during the 1940s: "she published her first book New Orleans Cookbook, opened two restaurants (Lena’s Eatery and Lena Richard’s Gumbo House), and became the first black woman to have a cooking show (and possibly the first black person and first woman). Her show, Lena Richard's New Orleans Cook Book, aired for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday on Louisiana’s local NBC network WDSU". In this decade, Lena also started a frozen food business, creating fully cooked packaged dinners distributed across in the United States, and opened her last restaurant that was fully employed by the Richard family, Gumbo House. Despite social and political forces, Lena shared unifying recipes through her own voice as the star of her own program. Lena’s legacies illustrate the strength of food and the extent to which sharing recipes can connect us.
“When I got way up there, I found out in a hurry they can’t teach me much more than I know. I learned things about new desserts and salads. But when it comes to cooking meats, stews, soups, sauces and such dishes we Southern cooks have Northern cooks beat by a mile. That’s not big talk; that’s honest truth”. -Lena Richard
Dr. Brooker T. Whatley
In the 1970s and 80s, Tuskegee University was also the site where scientist and researcher Booker T. Whatley created a team to develop a successful strategy farming model for small farmers to adopt. "Within this plan Whatley introduced a Clientele Membership Club in which customers pay an annual fee to be a member of a farm to support its operations and in return get fresh, local produce". At the height of the civil rights movement, Whatley advanced warfare for rural residents through sustainable and community-based practices.
Whatley was also an author: "in 1987, he published the book How To Make $100k Farming 25 Acres. This was released during the time when both national and international farmers began to use and encourage community supported agriculture models (CSA) for farms. Similar cooperative farming models during the 1960s and '70s included the emerging Japanese Teikei system". Through market analyses, advanced agriculture foresight, and a mission for Black self-determination, Whatley theorized new concepts that are critical to our understanding of sustainable agriculture today.
“But the small farmer of the future– man or woman, black or white– is going to be a professional. I say this plan of mine is for a “limited resource” farm, but the only limited resource this farmer will have is land. That person will know his or her job"!- Brooker T. Whatley
Germain Jenkins— Fresh future farms
"Fresh Future Farm (FFF) is ¼ acre farm in North Charleston, South Carolina founded in 2014 by Germain Jenkins (pictured above). They 'are growing within a community that's been pushed to the margins. By employing our neighbors to build and operate a transformational urban farm and grocery store, we are improving wellness and livelihood at ground level'"
The collective’s blooming mission is to sustain “simple, ancestral farming techniques coupled with a purposefully-built, self-sustaining regenerative ecosystem [to] enable an efficient and effective fresh food solution for any community. We are sharing our best practices with our Fresh Future Farm network in order to end food apartheid across the country”. The farm is located in the Chicora/Cherokee neighborhood, one of the many communities in the state facing food apartheid. In benefiting their community, FFF demonstrates the power in mobilizing anti-racist and sustainable ideas.
"In addition to growing food and offering employment opportunities, FFF also provides education to its region through courses, volunteer opportunities, farm tours, and sharing at local and national farms and food events". In alignment with Anabel’s philosophies, FFF is dedicated to ensuring food security, collaborating with one’s community, and ending food apartheid. They have an admirable approach to community food development through strong engagement and tangible resources. In this contemporary example, one can clearly see the legacies of figures, such as Dr. Booker T. Whatley, in this farm's sustainable strategies.