The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to be felt in many aspects of our lives. One that is particularly challenging for our co-op is the impact on our food supply — demand for many products is again exceeding supply, reducing our ability to keep our shelves fully stocked to meet the needs of our members and shoppers.
Early in the pandemic, panic buying was the cause of many of the out-of-stock situations that grocers experienced. Although the food industry was able to rebound somewhat, the sustained nature of the pandemic, combined with the slow pace of vaccination globally and the recent surge caused by the Delta variant, have resurfaced the problem. There is a scarcity of many raw materials and labor shortages persist for national manufacturers, distributors and transportation companies alike.
Frozen foods, baking products, snacks, supplements, beverages, paper products, household cleaners and pet foods have been particularly affected, but our co-op has experienced out-of-stocks in many categories.
While the food industry is taking many steps to mitigate the problem, recovery estimates continue to be pushed out and out-of-stocks on some products from national suppliers are likely through the end of the year.
On the bright side, our co-op continues to work with local farmers and producers, and supply of these items remains relatively stable. When we have sufficient supply, we’ll let you know so that you can shop with confidence that there is enough for everyone. We may have to offer new or different brands, or fewer flavors or sizes on some familiar ones, but whenever we are unable to stock an item, we will do our best to find and provide you with substitutes. We encourage you to try something new and when in doubt or if you need assistance, please ask!
Our food system is strong and resilient, and these challenges will be resolved in time. Thank you for your support and patronage as we continue to navigate the effects of the pandemic. We’re all in this together!
Living in California, it is impossible to ignore the impact that wildfires have had on our state in recent years. As this blog is being written on 8/18/21, more than 6,500 wildfires have destroyed more than 1.3 million acres across the state so far in 2021, which is a pace that is set to exceed any other year in recorded history. While wildfires are a natural part of California’s landscape, the most prominent “fire season” (not only in California, but across the entire West coast) is starting earlier and ending later every year. Many point to climate change and drought to be the key driver of this trend. The warmer temperatures lead to reduced snowpack and earlier spring snowmelt which create longer and more intense dry seasons. This pattern leads to a drying out of the state’s vegetation and makes forests more susceptible to massive wildfires. While this is an important driving factor to consider, there are other factors at play as well.
When early explorers (or more accurately named, colonizers) began to arrive in California, they noticed smoke from what appeared to be intentionally set fires. The first records of this date as far back as 1542 when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo of Spain found that “Native Americans set fires in the canyons around the Los Angeles basin to prevent too much buildup of undergrowth and to drive out the game.” As more Europeans like Cabrillo came to the region, these practices would continue to be observed, but never respected. Instead, they brought agricultural practices from their home continent and a concerted effort to erase Indigenous culture.
Prior to European intervention, the Indigenous people of the West were experts in keeping the land in balance. The landscape was a perfect blend of meadows, grasslands, forests and brushland and prescribed burns at calculated intervals made it so that the megafires we see now would not be possible. Additionally, burns with plants such as trees and grasses actually helped them improve their yield on essential crops that provided food and materials for basket weaving. Fire was not only a tangible tool for agriculture and the ecosystem, but also served spiritual purposes as well. However, after centuries of European exploitation and terror towards the Indigenous people of California, the practice of prescribed burns was all but eradicated until recently.
By the late 19th century, the US Forest Service at the time cited an oncoming “Timber Famine” as grounds for becoming even more diligent in the suppression of fires. While scientists and Indigenous tribes at the time had made pleas for them to reconsider, the first head of the USFS, Gifford Pinchot, continued for the pushed demonization of fires. In 1910, the USFS was aided in its campaign by a giant fire that burned through Idaho, Washington, and Montana and engulfed entire towns. And while much of this fire burned through dead and down slash left over from over logging and deforestation, the USFS used this incident to push for full suppression of fire, and they eventually succeeded. In 1911 the Weeks Act was passed, which in part allowed for the Federal Government to issue fines and other penalties to local governments who allowed for unauthorized fire suppression tactics. By 1935, The 10 AM Policy was enacted, which deemed that all wildfires must be extinguished by 10 AM following their day of discovery.
Many trees throughout the West have serotinous cones which means that they only seed with fire. Many native grasses in California depend on fire as well. Fire is regenerative and healthy for many ecosystems and suppressing it for so long knocked everything out of balance. Until the 1970s when small prescribed burns began to be issued again, fires in the west were totally suppressed leaving forests to grow unchecked. And while you may see remnants of prescribed burns in parts of the state today, many fire-dependent ecosystems have not been properly tended and we are still in a mentality of suppression being more important than prevention.
A good example of this in California is a Sequoia grove, which is largely dependent on fire. Usually, these groves burn regularly with ground fire which is why Sequoias don’t have lower branches. But when fire was suppressed, less fire-resistant trees like Douglas Fir and Incense Cedar started occupying the forest grounds. Those same trees, along with other unchecked brush, not only act as tinder for a fire, but also become “ladder fuel,” carrying fire to the upper branches of Sequoias and creating a totally different ecological system. This is one example of how mismanagement of forest lands has led to the perfect conditions for these large-scale fires.
As mentioned, the past 50 years have seen more prescribed burns and preventative measures but the bulk of our efforts have still gone towards fire suppression. When we look at funding, we can see that fire suppression gets the haul of funding, while fire management, or land management, doesn’t. Most fire personnel do not work in our forests outside of May through October, and off-season burning often gets sidelined for lack of personnel. Unless we begin to focus more energy on preventative measures by utilizing more resources for prevention, and also allow for Indigenous tribes to perform the same fire control practices of their ancestors, it is entirely possible that we will continue to see these devastating fires.
The Importance of Inclusivity
Along with diversity and equity, inclusivity is a topic that all communities should be aware of and actively work to implement. Even if it is a topic that you feel you are familiar with, it is important to continuously examine and understand any blind spots you may have that prohibit your ability to be more inclusive. As a cooperatively owned business, the idea of inclusivity is of paramount importance as concern for the community is a guiding principle in everything that we do. This blog is not only a call to action for its readers, but a reflection and reminder of the things that we need to be doing as an organization to be as inclusive as possible.
So, what is inclusivity anyways?
For those that like textbook definitions, inclusivity can be defined as:
“the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or mental disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.”
That means that you are taking all people, especially historically marginalized groups – whether it be based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, body features, etc. – into consideration within all facets of daily life. The fact of the matter is that implicit bias is universal amongst us all. While implicit bias is something that is important for everyone to be aware of so that they can avoid making altered decisions, it is especially important for people in leadership roles as their actions and opinions can often shape a culture that makes people feel excluded.
The difference between inclusivity and diversity
While there are parallels between diversity and inclusivity, it is important to distinguish the two as separate. Whereas diversity is by most accounts a measurable characteristic, inclusivity is defined by the actual work you are doing to shape your mindset and actions to ensure that diverse groups feel represented and included. Any organization or activity can claim to be diverse by having a variety of different people that participate. And while this is important, it is all for nothing if that same organization or activity is not making every person that makes up that diverse group feel as if they truly have a seat at the table.
What can I do to be more inclusive?
There are many things that you can do to approach inclusivity in your daily life. One thing you can do immediately is to be more mindful in general; this is always a great first step. This means evaluating your biases and privileges, staying open to education and feedback and taking a second to think about the language you use. This blog does a great job of taking a more in-depth look at some of the tangible steps you can take to be more inclusive.
How can we be inclusive at the Co-op?
As a Co-op, inclusivity means that we are doing everything in our power to ensure that our policies, staffing, management, communications, accessibility and attitudes are all aligned and accommodating to our entire community. It means that our recently formed Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Taskforce will continue seeking out trainings and educational materials for our Board and management team so that we can successfully implement necessary policy changes, confront implicit bias and lead the rest of the team to do the same. It means that we will be more cognizant of the language we use in our hiring posts, blogs, social media posts, newsletters and in-store signage. And it also means that we will need to constantly evaluate the products that we carry to ensure that everyone feels that they can find what they need at the Co-op. Because at the end of the day, the Co-op belongs to everyone in our community and it is our responsibility to make sure we truly abide by that.
Beer is made with four ingredients: water, grain, hops, and yeast. Despite this humble foundation, however, there’s a wide variety of color, flavor, and aroma to be found on the shelves.
At the most basic level, there are two types of beer: ales and lagers. Ales are typically a bit heartier, while lagers are usually lighter in both color and body and are crisper, cleaner beers. Most mass-produced beers that you see in stores and on TV are lagers (Pilsners, to be precise).
When pairing beers with food, try to choose a beer that either complements or offsets the food’s flavors. Serve small glasses of beer per plate to avoid overstuffing your diners.
If you’re cooking meat on a grill, a stout (a dark, slightly smoky ale) will bring out the charred flavor. If the meat is already pretty flavorful (or, say, coated in cheese), a crisp lager will provide a refreshing counterpoint. And if it’s a greasy burger you’re after, go for a wheat beer; it will also pair nicely with French fries.
When cooking with hot chili pepper or fiery curry, a German bock or dunkelweiss (dark wheat) will provide some slight bready sweetness to help soothe your burning palate. Likewise, a “hoppy” India Pale Ale (IPA) will impart the bitterness you need to slake your thirst and bring out your food’s flavor, not just its heat.
Veggie lovers should steer toward Pilsner, Kolsch, and Dortmunder styles, which are mostly crisp and clean with grassy or peppery hop flavors, complementing vegetarian dishes without washing out subtler flavors.
Above all, take these guidelines as suggestions. After all, there is no right or wrong way to pair beer with food. The next time you’re looking to serve beer with your meal, ask the food co-op staff about the local microbrewed beers they carry (if your food co-op carries alcohol), and sample a few to discover what you like most. Remember that food and beer are meant to be convivial and are best when shared with others—so have fun!
This blog was written by Charles Davidson, a contributor to NCG’s “Welcome to the Table”
2021 Annual Meeting Q&A
The 2021 Davis Food Co-op Annual Meeting took place via Zoom on Thursday May 6, 2021. During the course of the meeting, the General Manager and Board of Directors presented an annual report for the 2019-2020 fiscal year. Owners were also given the opportunity to ask questions. Below is a copy of our Annual Report (which can also be found at the Customer Service Desk) as well as the Owner questions that were asked and the corresponding answers to those questions.
When most people hear the word “sustainability”, the environment is likely the first thing they think of. But true sustainability cannot be achieved if it is viewed through a narrow lens. As we have explored in our blogs throughout this Earth Month, Sustainability is made of three equally important pillars: Environmental, Social and Economic. When we have three pillars of equal importance, we must understand and acknowledge how they all intersect and rely upon one another. If we wish to improve one pillar, we must work to improve all pillars.
For those born into privilege, social and economic sustainability are topics that can often be ignored. And while many that possess this outlook can also ignore the importance of environmental sustainability, there is no denying that the long-term effects of climate change will impact the livelihoods of all people – regardless of social or economic standing. With that said, however, it will be the most vulnerable people across the world that bear the biggest brunt of climate change impacts.
Historically marginalized groups such as women, people with disabilities, Indigenous people, ethnic minorities, LGBTQIA+, migrant workers, and others often face both social discrimination and economic distress. People that face these socioeconomic challenges currently struggle with access to clean water, food security, adequate healthcare, and many other factors that will only worsen in the event of climate related crises. It should also be noted that making environmentally sustainable choices is not always accessible for poor and marginalized groups. The counterintuitive reality is that environmentally sustainable options in our daily life can be expensive and unavailable in certain regions. As it stands now, solar power, electric vehicles, compostable packaging, etc. are all options that are more expensive than their less sustainable counterparts. Without well thought out and inclusive policies that address the large-scale changes that need to take place, climate change mitigation measures, as well as inaction, will continue to be a high financial burden on poor households.
In order to truly address issues that face both Environmental and Economic sustainability, we must improve all of our systems of societal function by making them more equitable and diverse. If we are to truly attack issues that face all communities, we must engage all communities by creating an even playing field. It is critical that all people are brought along in the decision-making process when it comes to climate change solutions. Transparency and access to information, community engagement and investments in green growth solutions that are offered to historically marginalized groups will create an opportunity to positively uplift all three of these pillars. Diverse communities bring unique perspectives, skills, and knowledge that can help us collectively address climate change. The changes that can come from these initiatives can create new policies and jobs that can uplift economies around the world. Finite natural resource mining does not create long-term economic sustainability, but new necessary changes can.
This is by no means a comprehensive look at the total impact of the pillars of sustainability. This is such a multifaceted topic that we hope you have become more interested in during this Earth Month. Take a look below some of our favorite local organizations that are focused on these different forms of sustainability.
Black History Month
In honor of Black History Month, we will be celebrating and recognizing the contributions that Black Americans have had on our food system throughout history. The Co-op, and America as a whole, have been directly influenced by these innovators that created many of the advancements in food as we know them today. Keep an eye out for our posts throughout the month that will highlight some of these great visionaries!
George Washington Carver
George Washington Carver is often credited with the creation of peanut butter but his influence in the world of food goes far beyond that. He was an agricultural chemist, agronomist, and experimenter whose development of new products derived from peanuts, sweet potatoes, and soybeans helped revolutionize the agricultural economy of the South in the early 20th Century.
Starting in in 1896, Carver devoted his time to research projects aimed at helping Southern agriculture, demonstrating ways in which farmers could improve their economic situation. He conducted experiments in soil management and crop production and directed an experimental farm. At this time agriculture in the Deep South was in steep decline because the unremitting single-crop cultivation of cotton had left the soil of many fields exhausted and worthless, and erosion had then taken its toll on areas that could no longer sustain any plant cover. As a remedy, Carver urged Southern farmers to plant peanuts and soybeans. As members of the legume family, these plants could restore nitrogen to the soil while also providing the protein so badly needed in the diet of many Southerners at the time.
Carver revealed his experiments to the public in 1914, and increasing numbers of the South’s farmers began to turn to peanuts, sweet potatoes, and their derivatives for income. Much exhausted land was renewed, and the South became a major new supplier of agricultural products. When Carver started his research in 1896, the peanut had not even been recognized as a crop, but within the next half century it became one of the six leading crops throughout the United States and, in the South, the second cash crop by 1940. Additionally, his research ultimately helped develop 300 derivative products from peanuts—among them: milk, flour, ink, dyes, plastics, wood stains, soap, linoleum, medicinal oils, and cosmetics—and 118 from sweet potatoes, including: flour, vinegar, molasses, ink, a synthetic rubber, and postage stamp glue.
Frederick McKinley Jones
In 1939, Frederick McKinley Jones patented the world’s first successful refrigerated transportation system. Two years later, he released an improved version, the Thermo King Model C, which revolutionized the agriculture and grocery industries.
While Frederick McKinley Jones patented more than sixty inventions over his sixty-seven-year lifetime (making him one of the most prolific African-American inventors ever) the Model C stands as his most prominent achievement. The Model C was the first cooling unit mounted on the front side of a vehicle. Units fixed in this location collected less dirt than under-mounted versions. That combined with its unitary, metal body gave it the rigidity to withstand long trips and the lightness (700 lbs) to save precious engine power. This meant that seasonal crops could now be shipped across longer distances and nations could trade perishable goods.
Today, more than ¾ of food transported in the United States is done so with a refrigeration unit. There is no doubt that Jones’ innovation helped shape the future of both agriculture and the modern grocery store.
Lloyd Augustus Hall
Lloyd Augustus Hall invented a number of ways to better preserve food and is widely regarded as one of the most important food chemists of the 20th century. During a 40+ year career that started in 1921, he amassed 59 U.S. patents while working as a consultant for both Griffith’s Laboratories and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Hall pioneered antioxidant use when he discovered that foods with fats and oils spoiled when certain ingredients react with oxygen in the air. He also proved that some spices exposed food to microbes that sped up the process of food spoiling. This was contrary to beliefs at the time, which held that spices acted as food preservatives.
Many food preservation techniques used today were pioneered by Dr. Hall’s methods. He is responsible for many of the meat curing products, seasonings, emulsions, bakery products, antioxidants, protein hydrolysates, and other substances that keeps certain foods fresh and flavorful today.
Henry Blair received his first US Patent in 1834, the second Black man to be issued a patent in the United States. His invention, a corn seed planter, dramatically improved efficiency in corn planting. A successful farmer for years, Blair used his inventions to increase productivity on his farm and farms across the country. Two years later, Blair was issued a patent for his mechanical cotton planter, similarly optimizing cotton planting. According to an 1836 article in The Mechanics’ Magazine, Blair’s planter could “save the labor of eight men”.
Blair was born in Glen Ross, Maryland in 1807. Although he was likely a freedman, until 1858 free and enslaved men could apply for US patents. After a slave-owner challenged this law in 1857, the law was re-written to exclude any enslaved persons from applying for and obtaining a patent. This law wasn’t changed until 1871, eleven years after Blair’s death and six years after the end of the Civil War. Today, .3% of US patents are issued to Black Americans.
Dr. Booker T Whatley
Did you know Community Supported Agriculture has roots in Black history? Although popularized by white farmers in the 1980s, Dr. Booker T Whatley listed having a Clientele Membership Club as one of his Ten Commandments for Small Farms in the 1960s. Dr. Whatley was born the eldest of twelve children on his family’s farm in Anniston, Alabama. With a passion for agriculture, Dr. Whatley grew up to be a prominent author, horticulturist, and professor at Tuskegee University.
Between his youth and adulthood Dr. Whatley saw the steep decline of Black farms and farmers. When he was born black farms made up 14% of farms in the US. In 2021, Black farms account for just 1.4%. Seeing this decline, he created his Ten Commandments which he considered essential for the success of small and mid-sized farms in the 60s and 70s. Dr. Whatley’s Clientele Membership Club, asked members to pay an upfront fee to pick their own produce throughout the season. This enabled farmers to pay for seeds and equipment without taking out a loan at the beginning of the season, saved them labor during harvest, and gave club members agency in choosing their food.
Dr. Whatley’s Ten Commandments were cutting edge in his time. Now, we consider CSA and Pick Your Own staples of the good food movement. And while CSA and cooperative economics in farming have been practiced all over the world, we want to recognize Dr. Whatley’s contribution and its revolutionary effect on US American farming.
Joesph Lee’s world was the food industry, and his glorious career in food service began when he was a young boy and worked in a bakery. Armed with hands-on experience, he eventually began preparing, cooking and serving food. He was so successful that he opened two restaurants in the Boston area, then went on to also own and manage the popular Woodland Park Hotel for 17 years.
It was during the peak of his success as a Master Chef that Lee got the idea for the bread crumbing machine. In his opinion, throwing out day-old bread was a waste, when it could instead be used to prepare foods. He had long felt that bread crumbs were superior to cracker crumbs, so he quickly began working on a device that automatically tore, crumbled and ground day-old bread into crumbs.
In June of 1895, Lee patented his bread-crumbing machine. The picture here is of Lee himself using the machine. Lee’s machine was so efficient, it reduced manpower by 75% and was quickly adopted by restaurants all over the country. But Lee wasn’t finished. He soon invented a bread-making machine that could mix ingredients and knead dough so quickly and efficiently, it did the work of six men — and did it cheaper and more hygienically than it had ever been done before. This machine was the predecessor of bread-making machines that are still in use in bakeries and restaurants all across the world today.
George “Crum” Speck & Kate Wicks
George “Crum” Speck is often credited with the invention of the potato chip. While there is no doubt that Speck helped popularized this new snack that would become a staple in America, there seems to be some indication that his sister, Kate Wicks, may have also played a part in the accidental discovery of the chip while they were working together as cooks at the Moon Lake Lodge Resort in Saratoga Springs, NY.
The commonly told tale goes something like this: A customer that ordered french fries repeatedly sent them back to the kitchen for being too thickly cut. In frustration, Speck cut a potato into the thinnest of slices, fried them in oil, and sent them back out. These crispy fried potatoes would be the first potato chips served in the US. However, his sister Kate Wicks has a different version of the story in which she says she sliced off a sliver of potato and it fell into a hot frying pan by accident. Speck then tasted the sliced potato and gave his enthusiastic approval of the chip.
Regardless of which story was the correct version, there is no doubt that Speck’s promotion of the chip helped popularize it. Wealthy visitors to Moon’s restaurant soon spread the word about the “Saratoga chips”, often traveling from Boston and New York specifically for the delicacy. Speck opened his own restaurant, Crum’s Place, in 1860 in Malta, New York where he provided every table with a basket of chips. His chip would remain a delicacy for the elite until the 1920s when entrepreneur Herman Lay brought the chips to the South to introduce them to a wider audience. Lay’s mass production and worldwide distribution of potato chips soon overshadowed Speck’s legacy. Nonetheless, the accidental discovery of the potato chip by George Speck and Kate Wicks led to the potato chip as we know it today in the US.
Robert Lloyd Smith
Robert Lloyd Smith founded the Farmers’ Improvement Society in 1890 with the goal of guiding Black farmers to economic independence through home and farm ownership, cooperative buying, cash purchasing instead of credit buying, and raising most of their own food. Although born, raised, and educated in South Carolina, R L Smith moved to Oakland, Texas in the late 1870s to become the principal of the Oakland Normal School, a leading teacher-training educational institution in the state. Before founding the Farmers’ Improvement Society, he served as an aide to Booker T Washington, advocating for self-help and solidarity as a means to economic independence and growth for Black US Americans.
Smith founded the Society to assist Black farmers in the area who worked as sharecroppers and tenant farmers. Sharecropping and tenant farming required farmers to rent land from the landowner, give a portion of their crop to landowners as rent, and purchase seeds and equipment from the landowner or from a merchant on credit. Many Black farmers became deeply indebted to landowners. R L Smith challenged this system through the Society which also sponsored agricultural fairs for Black farmers and paid sickness and death benefits. The Society spread throughout Texas and to Oklahoma and Arkansas. Under R L Smith’s leadership the Society grew to include a truck growers’ union, an agricultural college, the Farmers’ Improvement Bank, and the Woman’s Barnyard Auxiliaries, which specialized in better egg, poultry, butter, and swine production.
Alexander P. Ashbourne
Alexander P. Ashbourne was an early inventor. He was born into slavery in Philadelphia around 1820 and while there are very few documented facts about his personal life, it is know that he grew up cutting wheat alongside his family members. This would lead him to think of more efficient ways to cut wheat which would result in an important invention later in life.
Since Ashbourne was born after the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act was passed in 1780, he was not subject to a lifetime of enslavement. Although the exact date of his emancipation is unknown, by 1847 all enslaved people in Pennsylvania had been freed. Ashbourne disappeared from the public record until 1863, when he reemerged working as a caterer. By this time, he was well known and respected in the city. He catered weddings and buffets of the wealthy elite in Philadelphia, and was selected as one of a handful of local caterers for the 1863 Emancipation Celebration held in the city.
While attending this event, Ashbourne noticed that the biscuits were simply hand patted and lacked any real form. He began a decade long process to create a device, a spring-loaded biscuit cutter, that would guarantee a uniform shape and size. Ashbourne applied for a patent for his invention on May 11, 1875, and on November 20, 1876 he was granted a patent for the cutter. The cutter also contained metal plates with various shapes. The cook could push down on the plate to cut the dough into specialized shapes, a method that is still used for numerous baked goods today.
Ashbourne continued to invent, and also received a patent for processing coconut oil on August 21, 1877. The Ashbourne process for refining the oil included filtration, bleaching, high temperature heating, and finally hydrogenation to ensure that no unsaturated fatty acids were left in the oil. Ashbourne began working on this process in 1875 and received a patent for it on July 27, 1880. Thanks to Ashbourne’s early work, coconut oil is widely used in hair products, foods, and scented products today.
What’s the scoop on Alfred Cralle? Born in 1866 in Virginia, just after the end of the American Civil War, Cralle attended local schools and worked for his father in the carpentry trade as a young man. During that period, he also became interested in mechanics.
Cralle was sent to Washington D.C. where he attended Wayland Seminary, a branch of the National Theological Institute, one of a number of schools founded by the American Baptist Home Mission Society immediately after the Civil War to help educate newly freed African Americans. After attending the school for a few years, Cralle moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he worked as a porter at a drugstore and at a hotel.
While working at the hotel, he developed the idea of the ice cream scoop. It came to him when he noticed ice cream servers having difficulty trying to get the popular confection desired by the customer into the cone they were usually holding. The ice cream tended to stick to spoons and ladles, usually requiring the server to use two hands and at least two separate implements to serve customers. Cralle responded to that problem by creating a mechanical device now known as the ice cream scoop. He applied for and received a patent on February 2, 1897.
Cralle’s invention, originally called an Ice Cream Mold and Disher, was designed to be able to keep ice cream and other foods from sticking. It was easy to operate with one hand. Since the Mold and Disher was strong and durable, effective, and inexpensive, it could be constructed in almost any desired shape, such as cone or a mound, with no delicate parts that could break or malfunction. This innovative product has lasted until today as the best method for scooping ice cream. Next time you get a cone or cup, be sure to remember the contributions of Alfred Cralle!
Bryant-Central Co-op was started in the mid-70s and was spearheaded by a community organizer, Moe Burton. Burton, who had been involved in the Socialist Workers Party and the Black Panthers, was drawn to the practicality of the co-op. He worked closely with the Cooperative Organization in Minnesota to create an equitable and affordable store that everyone could benefit from.
While many co-ops at this time focus on healthy food and volunteer workers, Moe fought hard for affordability over all else. The co-op also moved to compensation much quicker than others, hiring young adults and teenagers in the neighborhood to learn skills and stay busy during the summer.
Bryant-Central, unfortunately, closed in 1978, but Seward Co-op filled the need for healthy and affordable food in this neighborhood.
“At Seward Co-op we are proud to honor and build on the legacies of past cooperators. People like W.E.B. Du Bois, Mo Burton, and groups like the Credjafawn Social Club, not to mention, the countless unnamed individuals that did the physical work of starting first wave co-ops are critical in our understanding of the stories of those who came before us. Communities, like our own, have used cooperatives in order to end oppression and eradicate injustices, particularly in food justice.” – Seward Co-op
Virginia Estelle Randolph
Virginia Estelle Randolph was a pioneering educator, community health advocate, organizational leader, and humanitarian. She was born to formerly enslaved parents in Richmond, Virginia in 1870 and would go on to a career in education and community building which spanned nearly 60 years. Her passion for education commitment to her community sparked interracial cooperation which broadened access to educational opportunities and healthcare for Black folks in her community.
As the first countywide Jeanes Supervising Industrial Teacher in the South in 1908, Randolph traveled to every Black school in Henrico County to train teachers and build community support. She was internationally recognized for her methods which were used in rural communities across the South and in British colonies abroad.
As a founding member of the Negro Organization Society, Randolph led major initiatives in public health and continuing education for Black educators and farmers. The society’s motto, “Better Schools, Better Health, Better Homes, and Better Farms,” encompasses Randolph’s holistic approach to community health and wellbeing. To the same end, she was appointed Chairman of the committee in charge of food supplies of the Colored Branch of the Red Cross, of which she was a founding member. Randolph strengthened not only her community, but laid a groundbreaking foundation for community health advocacy and rural education. And although we may not realize it, her contributions have had a lasting legacy as teachers continue her work today.
Wright was born and raised in Marshall, TX and in 1942, she started working for the Johnsons as a maid and cook to help pay her way through college. She ended up staying with the family until 1969, through the duration of Johnson’s presidency. While Johnson was in Congress, his home quickly became known for its food, as other politicians visited regularly and built relationships over Wright’s chile con queso and peach cobbler. Lady Bird Johnson once wrote, “I have yet to find a great chef whose desserts I like as well as Zephyr’s.”
Black women have long contributed to America’s culture of innovation. Martha Jones, who may have been the first Black woman to earn a US patent, was an inventor who made significant contributions to agriculture with her corn husker and sheller. Jones was issued a patent for her “Improvement to the Corn Husker, Sheller” (pictured) in 1868, 59 years after the first white woman received a patent and 47 years after the first Black man. Jones claimed her invention could husk, shell, cut up, and separate husks from corn in one operation, marking a significant step forward in the automation of agriculture. Aside from the information associated with her patent, we don’t know much about the life of Martha Jones.
While Martha Jones is widely believed to be the first Black female recipient of a US patent, it is possible there were Black women who came before her. Time for a bit of patent law history: With the passing of the Patent Act in 1793, patent applicants were required to swear an oath affirming that they were the original inventor of the invention receiving the patent and that they were a US citizen. Fast forward to the 1857 Dred Scott decision which prohibited anyone of African descent from claiming US citizenship and the rights guaranteed by the Constitution to US citizens, regardless of place of birth or status of freedom. In many cases, this prohibited Black folks from receiving patents. However, it is possible that Black female inventors applied for patents through other people, a work around, before Martha Jones. That being said, Jones’ corn husker and sheller represents a major step forward in agricultural processing, regardless of whether or not she was the first Black woman to receive a patent.
If you’ve ever kneaded bread dough by hand you may have found yourself wishing for an easier way to do it. Enter Judy Reed. In keeping yesterday’s theme of early Black women inventors, Judy Reed was issued a US patent in 1883 for her Improved Dough Kneader and Roller (pictured). Her machine allowed bread dough to be more evenly mixed before getting rolled out into a covered chamber. With her invention, Reed directly contributed to advancing both food processing and food safety.
Unfortunately, we don’t know much about the life of Judy Reed. She lived in Washington DC and signed her patent with an “X”. Likely the third Black woman to receive a US patent, Reed lived at a time when Black women inventors received little recognition for their inventions and saw fewer profits. We do know that Judy Reed thought critically about food and food systems and had the mechanical know-how to contribute meaningfully to the process. Most of us still eat store-bought bread on a daily basis, so next time you toast up a slice of bread think of Judy Reed and her contribution to your breakfast!
Combahee River Colony
From mutual aid societies and independent fugitive communities to land and food co-ops, the Black community has a long, but little recognized, tradition of cooperation in the United States. Early forms of cooperation included mutual insurance companies, buying clubs, and collective farming. Both free and enslaved Black people pooled money to pay for burials, land, sick benefits, and buying freedom for one another. The Underground Railroad is another example of a cooperative effort. Cooperation served as a powerful tool, allowing Black folks to improve each other’s lives in the face of blatant racism and active sabotage. Housing and land co-ops offered Black folks access where racist and discriminatory policies would prohibit individual action.
Throughout this long tradition of cooperation, women often founded and ran Black cooperative efforts. This is the case with the Combahee River Colony, which formed in South Carolina during the Civil War. As men left to join the Union Army, Black women in South Carolina took to the Gullah/Geechee Sea Islands in the Combahee River region to grow cotton on abandoned farms. These women formed an intentional community which collectively farmed the area throughout the war and several years after. Eventually, hundreds of women farmed with colony, securing food, shelter, and income for themselves and their families.
Melbah McAfee Smith
Today we’re sharing the story of cooperative developer and 2009 Cooperative Hall of Fame inductee Melbah McAfee Smith. McAfee Smith was born on a rural farm in Mississippi where her family operated 40 acres of fruit, vegetables, and livestock. In 1972, after graduating with a degree in business administration, she began her 40 year career as a co-op developer with the Federation of Southern Cooperatives.
Through her work with the Federation, Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, and the Mississippi Cooperative Development Center, McAfee Smith built co-ops in some of the most impoverished areas of the country. Using the cooperative model and her visionary leadership, McAfee Smith brought health care, economic development, and social justice to the communities she worked with. She helped form more than 25 co-ops and developed invaluable financial support networks to ensure their longevity. After Hurricane Katrina McAfee Smith helped form the state’s first worker-owned business, which created jobs and provided health care for low income and elderly folks in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward.
Melbah McAfee Smith’s work has propelled the cooperative movement forward. We’re inspired by and grateful for her insight, enthusiasm, and unparalleled intuition when it comes to building communities and grassroots cooperative action. She says, “…I am convinced that cooperation works, and if we work together we can change things, not only in our local communities, but in our regions as well as in this country. There’s a spiritual relationship to working together.” We couldn’t agree more.
If you enjoy macaroni and cheese, french fries, crème brûlée, and/or ice cream, you have James Hemings to thank. Hemings was the first American to train as a chef in France and would go on to prepare Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton’s meal as they sat down to political negotiations amidst their famous feud.
James Hemings was born into slavery in 1765. When he was 8 years old, Thomas Jefferson inherited him as property. When Jefferson was appointed Commerce Minister to France, the 19 year old Hemmings went with him to train as a chef. He studied in prestigious French kitchens, trained with a master pastry chef, but, most importantly, he spent time at Château de Chantilly, which was considered to have better food and chefs than Versailles. He became the chef de cuisine at Hôtel de Langeac, Jefferson’s personal residence, in 1787. Here he cooked for politicians and celebrities.
Hemings was freed in 1796. He spent some years travelling before returning to Jefferson, this time as a paid employee, to run the Monticello kitchens. In 1801 he committed suicide. He and his cooking were recently immortalized in the musical Hamilton. Moreover, James Hemings introduced us to foods that would become hallmarks of American culture for centuries and set standards which chefs strive toward today.
Robert W. Lee
The year is 1964. There is a line stretching nearly a mile from the doors of the Harrisburger Hotel. The smell of chicken pot pies and chopped chicken livers wafts through the air. But everyone is in line for Executive Chef Lee’s crab cakes as the Harrisburger is the only place to get authentic Southern crab cakes in the North.
Chef Robert W. Lee was born in Georgia. In 1918, at the age of 7, he started work for French Chef Eugene Bruauier after noticing the man coming from the Baltimore Hotel day after day and doing quite well. Lee trained under Bruauier for 13 years. By now an accomplished chef, he joined the army in 1942 where he became a mess sergeant and instructor. He was awarded a presidential medal by Franklin D. Roosevelt for training hundreds of cooks during the war. Shortly after his discharge he became the executive chef at the Harrisburger Hotel in Pennsylvania. Later in life he said, “Harrisburg, as far as food, was not on the map until I came here.”
He served as executive chef for nearly 30 years. Throughout his career Lee trained Black men and women for careers in the culinary field. He lectured and held cooking demonstrations at the Pennsylvania State University School of Hotel Management. He had a fiercely loyal following at every restaurant he managed and cooked in. Lee worked and succeeded in a field dominated by white men and in a country where Jim Crow Laws mandated segregation. Later in his career, he was asked to do a cooking demonstration at a hotel. A sign outside of the hotel directed Black folks to the rear entrance. He threatened to leave unless management agreed to let him walk through the front door, which they did. In later interviews he stated that he didn’t let discrimination slow him down. In 1979 he retired with his wife, Geneva, and continued cooking until his death in 1999. Countless chefs alive today were trained by Lee and his crab cake recipe lives on.
Edna Lewis, known as the Grande Dame of Southern Cooking, was one of the first Black women from the South to write a cookbook that did not conceal her true name, race, or gender. She also taught Americans to appreciate and love traditional Southern cuisine. She was born in 1916 in Freetown, Virginia, a community that was largely independent and practiced cooperation. She grew up growing, foraging, harvesting, and processing food for her community. She learned to cook and learned to love it from an early age.
Lewis moved to New York City at age 16 and became an accomplished seamstress making dresses for the likes of Dorcas Avedon and Marilyn Monroe. But this was not her dream. In 1949 her dreams came to fruition when she and her friend John Nicholson opened Cafe Nicholson where she was head chef. Lewis prepared traditional Southern dishes for Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams, Greta Garbo, Salvador Dali, and Eleanor Roosevelt among others.
Lewis recognized the growing demand for cookbooks and creative foods and sat down to pen the Edna Lewis Cookbook at a time when publicly visible Black women chefs were few and far between. With her first book a success, Julia Child’s editor, Judith Jones, approached Lewis about more cookbooks. She published several more cookbooks that celebrated Southern cuisine and broke ground for Black women chefs across the country. She mentored many prominent chefs, garnered international acclaim, and continued working as a chef into her 70s.
George T. Downing
In addition to being a prominent New York caterer, George T. Downing worked as an abolitionist and civil rights activist for over 70 years. He was born in New York City in 1819 to free parents, Thomas and Rebecca Downing. His father, Thomas Downing, cultivated oyster beds in the Jersey flats. In the 1830s, oysters were inexpensive and enjoyed universally in New York City. The senior Downing ran the Oyster House on Broad Street and served a menu that appealed to powerful white men. The Oyster House garnered international acclaim: Charles Dickens supped there and Downing sent oysters to Queen Victoria who sent back her thanks and a gold watch. George, who, like his father, was an entrepreneur, started his own catering business serving New York’s elite as well.
The Downings’ carpeted fine dining room lit by huge chandeliers was, of course, whites only. Downstairs, however, was a key stop in the Underground Railroad. Black folks making their way north could always count on the Downing’s for safety and rest, and for the best oysters in the city. George Downing’s activism didn’t stop there. He funded schools for Black children, led the fight in desegregating New York’s trolley system, with Frederick Douglas he propelled union efforts forward, pushed for integrating Rhode Island’s public schools, enlisted Black men for the Union Army, argued for women’s rights as well as civil rights, campaigned for an end to violence at the hands of the Klan during Reconstruction in the South, and advocated for the repeal of anti-interracial marriage laws in Rhode Island.
George Downing remained an activist until he died in 1903. As caterer to the stars (including the Kennedy’s), Downing was a tastemaker of the New York elite, but it was his work as an abolitionist and civil rights leader which saved countless lives and has had a lasting impact on this country for the better.