Black Vegan Chefs and the Future of Food

Black people became the fastest growing vegan demographic in the country in 2022. It’s no wonder then that Black vegan chefs are expanding the boundaries of both Black and vegan cuisine in the US, with aims to practice a veganism that uplifts people and planet. 

Veganism as environmental justice as racial justice

Let’s explore some of the reasons why Black folks and Black chefs are turning to veganism. 

But first, let’s talk about intersectionality. Intersectionality is a relatively new concept in Western thought and describes “the ways in which systems of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, class and other forms of discrimination ‘intersect’ to create unique dynamics and effects.” 

For example, Black Americans are more likely to live in food deserts than white Americans. Is race the sole determining factor? Most certainly not. We know that food deserts are also more likely in communities with small populations, lower incomes, low levels of education, and higher rates of unemployment. Using the intersectional approach, we can see then that race, socio-economic status, education level, and other dimensions of identity overlap here to create and sustain a system in which certain folks seriously lack access to healthy, fresh, and affordable foods.

Southern Style BBQ Tofu by Brandi Crawford

So, veganism, environmental justice and racial justice…intersect? Yes they do! Let’s look at exactly how. Take one common reason for going vegan: reducing cruelty and harm to animals. You’ve done away with meat, dairy, eggs, honey, cheese and you’re filling your shopping cart with so many vegetables. Before you check out, consider: Was the Latinx farmworker who harvested your food paid a fair wage? Do they work in safe conditions? Does the farmer own the DNA inside the seeds they plant or does a chemical company? Were the fields sprayed with pesticides that will end up in our rivers and oceans? If you don’t know, can you really say your veganism reduces cruelty? 

While there are many individual health benefits to eating more plants, going vegan is also an opportunity to engage more deeply with the social, political and environmental sides of what we eat. For the Black community, which is disproportionately affected by climate change and health conditions associated with racism, many see veganism as an opportunity to fight against these inequalities.

We should also mention that communities in Asia, Latin America, and Africa have been “eating vegan” – plant-based – for thousands of years. Trendy vegan foods like quinoa and sweet potatoes made popular by wealthy, white social media influencers have been staple crops for millions across recorded time. In fact, these days non-white Americans are more likely to be vegetarian or vegan than white Americans. 

Okay, now let’s meet some of the Black vegan chefs changing the game.

Tracye McQuirter

@byanygreens

Tracye McQuirter earned her Masters in Public Health from NYU and has over 36 years of experience eating and cooking vegan. She directed the first federally funded, community-based vegan nutrition program; co-created the first vegan-themed website specifically for Black Americans; launched the first Black American vegan starter guide; wrote two vegan how-to/recipe books; and previously served as a nutrition advisor for Black Women’s Health Imperative. Purchase her cookbooks and guides here

Aisha “Pinky” Cole

@sluttyveganATL

Aisha Cole is the brilliance behind Atlanta’s Slutty Vegan restaurant which regularly attracts an hour-long line of folks dreaming of her incredible vegan burgers at accessible prices. She opened the first Slutty Vegan in the majority Black neighborhood of West End, where there were previously zero plant based options. When Cole isn’t running multiple locations throughout Georgia or hosting Slutty Vegan pop-ups around the country, she’s donating funds to help local college students pay off their debts and stay in school. 

Bryant Terry

@bryantterry

Yes, Bryant Terry is a big deal. He’s won a James Beard Award and Fast Company named him one of 9 People Who Are Changing the Future of Food. He has also worked as Chef-in-Residence at San Francisco’s Museum of African Diaspora, authored best-selling cookbooks, and founded 4 Color Books, an imprint creating visually stunning books with BIPOC chefs and writers. In other words, he’s a fierce food justice advocate. 

If you want to learn how Black folks have always been major influencers and innovators on the American food system, check out our blog on Black food history.

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Black Food History Reads

In honor of Black History Month, we wanted to highlight 28 books on Black Americans that have had major contributions on our food system throughout history. These books matter as they address many themes, including the significant contributions of African and African American food-ways to “American” food culture; the knowledge, expertise, and agency of enslaved people, expressed through agriculture, cooking and domestic labor, and food commerce; the meaning and historical trajectory of Soul Food; and the intersections of food and race with embodiment, health, medicine, agriculture, and power.

Freedom Farmers: Agricultural Resistance and the Black Freedom Movement by Monica M. White

Freedom Farmers expands the historical narrative of the black freedom struggle to embrace the work, roles, and contributions of southern Black farmers and the organizations they formed. Whereas existing scholarship generally views agriculture as a site of oppression and exploitation of black people, this book reveals agriculture as a site of resistance and provides a historical foundation that adds meaning and context to current conversations around the resurgence of food justice/sovereignty movements in urban spaces like Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, New York City, and New Orleans.

Recipes for Respect- African American Meals and Meanings by Rafia Zafar

Beginning in the early nineteenth century and continuing nearly to the present day, African Americans have often been stereotyped as illiterate kitchen geniuses. Rafia Zafar addresses this error, highlighting the long history of accomplished African Americans within our culinary traditions, as well as the literary and entrepreneurial strategies for civil rights and respectability woven into the written records of dining, cooking, and serving.

Dispossession: Discrimination against African American Farmers in the Age of Civil Rights by Peter Daniel

Between 1940 and 1974, the number of African American farmers fell from 681,790 to just 45,594–a drop of 93 percent. In his hard-hitting book, historian Pete Daniel analyzes this decline and chronicles black farmers’ fierce struggles to remain on the land in the face of discrimination by bureaucrats in the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He exposes the shameful fact that at the very moment civil rights laws promised to end discrimination, hundreds of thousands of black farmers lost their hold on the land as they were denied loans, information, and access to the programs essential to survival in a capital-intensive farm structure.

To Live and Dine in Dixie: The Evolution of Urban Food Culture in the Jim Crow South by Angela Jill Cooley

This book explores the changing food culture of the urban American South during the Jim Crow era by examining how race, ethnicity, class, and gender contributed to the development and maintenance of racial segregation in public eating places. Focusing primarily on the 1900s to the 1960s, Angela Jill Cooley identifies the cultural differences between activists who saw public eating places like urban lunch counters as sites of political participation and believed access to such spaces a right of citizenship, and white supremacists who interpreted desegregation as a challenge to property rights and advocated local control over racial issues.

African American Foodways: Explorations of History and Culture by Anna Bower

Ranging from seventeenth-century West African fare to contemporary fusion dishes using soul food ingredients, the essays in this book provide an introduction to many aspects of African American foodways and an antidote to popular misconceptions about soul food. Examining the combination of African, Caribbean, and South American traditions, the volume’s contributors offer lively insights from history, literature, sociology, anthropology, and African American studies to demonstrate how food’s material and symbolic values have contributed to African Americans’ identity for centuries. Individual chapters examine how African foodways survived the passage into slavery, cultural meanings associated with African American foodways, and the contents of African American cookbooks, both early and recent.

We Are Each Other’s Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy by Natalie Baszile

In this impressive anthology, Natalie Baszile brings together essays, poems, photographs, quotes, conversations, and first-person stories to examine black people’s connection to the American land from Emancipation to today. In the 1920s, there were over one million black farmers; today there are just 45,000. Baszile explores this crisis, through the farmers’ personal experiences. In their own words, middle aged and elderly black farmers explain why they continue to farm despite systemic discrimination and land loss. The “Returning Generation”—young farmers, who are building upon the legacy of their ancestors, talk about the challenges they face as they seek to redress issues of food justice, food sovereignty, and reparations.

At the Table of Power: Food and Cuisine in the African American Struggle for Freedom, Justice, and Equality by Diane M. Spivey

At the Table of Power is both a cookbook and a culinary history that intertwines social issues, personal stories, and political commentary. Renowned culinary historian Diane M. Spivey offers a unique insight into the historical experience and cultural values of African America and America in general by way of the kitchen. From the rural country kitchen and steamboat floating palaces to marketplace street vendors and restaurants in urban hubs of business and finance, Africans in America cooked their way to positions of distinct superiority, and thereby indispensability. Despite their many culinary accomplishments, most Black culinary artists have been made invisible—until now. Within these pages, Spivey tells a powerful story beckoning and daring the reader to witness this culinary, cultural, and political journey taken hand in hand with the fight of Africans in America during the foundation years, from colonial slavery through the Reconstruction era. These narratives, together with the recipes from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, expose the politics of the day and offer insight on the politics of today. African American culinary artists, Spivey concludes, have more than earned a rightful place at the table of culinary contribution and power.

An Archive of Taste: Race and Eating in the Early United States by Lauren F. Klein

Lauren F. Klein considers eating and early American aesthetics together, reframing the philosophical work of food and its meaning for the people who prepare, serve, and consume it. She tells the story of how eating emerged as an aesthetic activity over the course of the eighteenth century and how it subsequently transformed into a means of expressing both allegiance and resistance to the dominant Enlightenment worldview. Klein offers richly layered accounts of the enslaved men and women who cooked the meals of the nation’s founders and, in doing so, directly affected the development of our national culture—from Thomas Jefferson’s emancipation agreement with his enslaved chef to Malinda Russell’s Domestic Cookbook, the first African American–authored culinary text.

Bound to the Fire: How Virginia’s Enslaved Cooks Helped Invent American Cuisine by Kelley Fanto Deetz

In grocery store aisles and kitchens across the country, smiling images of “Aunt Jemima” and other historical and fictional black cooks can be found on various food products and in advertising. Although these images are sanitized and romanticized in American popular culture, they represent the untold stories of enslaved men and women who had a significant impact on the nation’s culinary and hospitality traditions even as they were forced to prepare food for their oppressors.

The President’s Kitchen Cabinet: The Story of the African Americans Who Have Fed Our First Families, from the Washingtons to the Obamas by Adrian Miller

James Beard award–winning author Adrian Miller vividly tells the stories of the African Americans who worked in the presidential food service as chefs, personal cooks, butlers, stewards, and servers for every First Family since George and Martha Washington. Miller brings together the names and words of more than 150 black men and women who played remarkable roles in unforgettable events in the nation’s history.

Stirring the Pot: A History of African Cuisine by James McCann

Stirring the Pot offers a chronology of African cuisine beginning in the sixteenth century and continuing from Africa’s original edible endowments to its globalization. McCann traces cooks’ use of new crops, spices, and tastes, including New World imports like maize, hot peppers, cassava, potatoes, tomatoes, and peanuts, as well as plantain, sugarcane, spices, Asian rice, and other ingredients from the Indian Ocean world. He analyzes recipes, not as fixed ahistorical documents, but as lively and living records of historical change in women’s knowledge and farmers’ experiments. A final chapter describes in sensuous detail the direct connections of African cooking to New Orleans jambalaya, Cuban rice and beans, and the cooking of African Americans’ “soul food.”

Black, White, and Green: Farmers Markets, Race, and the Green Economy by Alison Hope Alkon

Drawing on ethnographic and historical sources, Alkon describes the meanings that farmers market managers, vendors, and consumers attribute to the buying and selling of local organic food, and the ways that those meanings are raced and classed. She mobilizes this research to understand how the green economy fosters visions of social change that are compatible with economic growth while marginalizing those that are not.

The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis

In this seminal work, Edna Lewis shows us precisely how to recover, in our own country or city or suburban kitchens, the taste of the fresh, good, and distinctly American cooking that she grew up with.

In this classic Southern cookbook, the “first lady of Southern cooking” (NPR) shares the seasonal recipes from a childhood spent in a small farming community settled by freed slaves. She shows us how to recreate these timeless dishes in our own kitchens—using natural ingredients, embracing the seasons, and cultivating community.

The Potlikker Papers by John T Edge

Like great provincial dishes around the world, potlikker is a salvage food. During the antebellum era, slave owners ate the greens from the pot and set aside the leftover potlikker broth for the enslaved, unaware that the broth, not the greens, was nutrient rich. After slavery, potlikker sustained the working poor, both black and white. In the South of today, potlikker has taken on new meanings as chefs have reclaimed it. Potlikker is a quintessential Southern dish, and The Potlikker Papers is a people’s history of the modern South, told through its food. Beginning with the pivotal role cooks and waiters played in the civil rights movement, noted authority John T. Edge narrates the South’s fitful journey from a hive of racism to a hotbed of American immigration. He shows why working-class Southern food has become a vital driver of contemporary American cuisine.

Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and African Diaspora by Edda L. Fields-Black

Mangrove rice farming on West Africa’s Rice Coast was the mirror image of tidewater rice plantations worked by enslaved Africans in 18th-century South Carolina and Georgia. This book reconstructs the development of rice-growing technology among the Baga and Nalu of coastal Guinea, beginning more than a millennium before the transatlantic slave trade. It reveals a picture of dynamic pre-colonial coastal societies, quite unlike the static, homogenous pre-modern Africa of previous scholarship. From its examination of inheritance, innovation, and borrowing, Deep Roots fashions a theory of cultural change that encompasses the diversity of communities, cultures, and forms of expression in Africa and the African diaspora.

Reaping a Great Harvest by Debra Ann Reid

Jim Crow laws pervaded the south, reaching from the famous “separate yet equal” facilities to voting discrimination to the seats on buses. Agriculture, a key industry for those southern blacks trying to forge an independent existence, was not immune to the touch of racism, prejudice, and inequality. In “Reaping a Greater Harvest,” Debra Reid deftly spotlights the hierarchies of race, class, and gender within the extension service.
Black farmers were excluded from cooperative demonstration work in Texas until the Smith-Lever Agricultural Extension act in 1914. However, the resulting Negro Division included a complicated bureaucracy of African American agents who reported to white officials, were supervised by black administrators, and served black farmers. The now-measurable successes of these African American farmers exacerbated racial tensions and led to pressure on agents to maintain the status quo. The bureau that was meant to ensure equality instead became another tool for systematic discrimination and maintenance of the white-dominated southern landscape.

Hunger Overcome?: Food and Resistance in Twentieth-Century African American Literature by Andrew Warnes 

Ever since slaves in America labored to produce food surfeit while enduring personal food shortage, says Andrew Warnes, African American writers have consistently drawn connections between hunger and illiteracy, and by extension between food and reading. This book investigates the juxtaposition of malnutrition and spectacular food abundance as a key trope of African American writing. Focusing on works by Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, and Toni Morrison, Warnes considers how black characters respond with a wide variety of counter-maneuvers to whites’ attempts at regulating access to nourishment, whether physical or intellectual.

Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue by Adrian Miller 

In Black Smoke, Miller chronicles how Black barbecuers, pitmasters, and restauranteurs helped develop this cornerstone of American foodways and how they are coming into their own today. It’s a smoke-filled story of Black perseverance, culinary innovation, and entrepreneurship. Though often pushed to the margins, African Americans have enriched a barbecue culture that has come to be embraced by all. Miller celebrates and restores the faces and stories of the men and women who have influenced this American cuisine. This beautifully illustrated chronicle also features 22 barbecue recipes collected just for this book.

Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice by Hanna Garth and Ashanté M. Reese

Primarily written by nonwhite scholars, and framed through a focus on Black agency instead of deprivation, the essays here showcase Black communities fighting for the survival of their food culture. The book takes readers into the real world of Black sustenance, examining animal husbandry practices in South Carolina, the work done by the Black Panthers to ensure food equality, and Black women who are pioneering urban agriculture. These essays also explore individual and community values, the influence of history, and the ongoing struggle to meet needs and affirm Black life.

Getting What We Need Ourselves: How Food Has Shaped African American Life by Jennifer Jensen Wallach

Beginning with an examination of West African food traditions during the era of the transatlantic slave trade and ending with a discussion of black vegan activism in the twenty-first century, Getting What We Need Ourselves: How Food Has Shaped African American Life tells a multi-faceted food story that goes beyond the well-known narrative of southern-derived “soul food” as the predominant form of black food expression. While this book considers the provenance and ongoing cultural resonance of emblematic foods such as greens and cornbread, it also examines the experiences of African Americans who never embraced such foods or who rejected them in search of new tastes and new symbols that were less directly tied to the past of plantation slavery. This book tells the story of generations of cooks and eaters who worked to create food habits that they variously considered sophisticated, economical, distinctly black, all-American, ethical, and healthful in the name of benefiting the black community.

Eating While Black by Psyche A Williams-Forson

Psyche A. Williams-Forson is one of our leading thinkers about food in America. In Eating While Black, Psyche offers her knowledge and experience to illuminate how anti-Black racism operates in the practice and culture of eating. She shows how mass media, nutrition science, economics, and public policy drive entrenched opinions among both Black and non-Black Americans about what is healthful and right to eat. Distorted views of how and what Black people eat are pervasive, bolstering the belief that they must be corrected and regulated. What is at stake is nothing less than whether Americans can learn to embrace nonracist understandings and practices in relation to food.

Sustainable culture—what keeps a community alive and thriving—is essential to Black peoples’ fight for access and equity, and food is central to this fight. Starkly exposing the rampant shaming and policing around how Black people eat, Williams-Forson contemplates food’s role in cultural transmission, belonging, homemaking, and survival. Black people’s relationships to food have historically been connected to extreme forms of control and scarcity—as well as to stunning creativity and ingenuity. In advancing dialogue about eating and race, this book urges us to think and talk about food in new ways in order to improve American society on both personal and structural levels.

The Jemima Code: Two Centuries of African-American Cookbooks by Toni Tipton-Martin

The Jemima Code features more than 150 Black cookbooks dating all the way back to 1827—a rare servants manual. The book also includes some of the classics such as Edna Lewis and Vertamae Grosvenor. Presented in chronological order, these recipes solidify the reality that Black Americans are the backbone of American cuisine and can create delicious and brilliant dishes from the barest of ingredients.

Farming While Black by Leah Pemmiman

Farming While Black is the first of its kind: a clear cut and dry guide on how Black people can form relationships with their land and “reclaim their dignity as agriculturists,” and teach all farmers, Black or white, of the centuries-long history that exists for Black people and farming. Soul Fire Farm, created by author Leah Penniman, is home to the Black and Latinx Farmers Immersion which serves as space for new farmers to learn growing, maintaining and basic food cultivation skills from people of color who come from shared experiences.

Burgers in Black Face: Anti-Black Restaurants Then and Now by Naa Oyo A. Kwate

Let’s talk about the commodity that is racist ideals when it comes to food. We all know of Aunt Jemima, Uncle Ben, Chef Rastus, right? The constant need for suppliers to endorse and profit off of Blackface goes back further than syrup bottles and instant rice. Naa Oyo A. Kwate examines the marketing concepts that “center around nostalgia for a racist past and commemoration of our racist present.” There has been no end in sight for outwardly racist logos and Burgers in Black Face continues to expose how anti-Black the restaurant industry is and the limited actions taken to end the problem.

Every Nation Has Its Dish by Jennifer Jensen Wallach

Jennifer Jensen Wallach bridges the gap between activism and food consumption in her novel, Every Nation Has Its Dish. She also challenges the traditional narrative of soul food, particularly how it’s often regarded as a single type of African American cuisine. A review posted on the Graduate Association For Food Studies says that Wallach, “demonstrates that ingestion is not only a physical act but a symbolic embodiment of national identity.”

In her novel, she unveils how renowned Black food reformers such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois both believed that in order to effectively demonstrate citizenship, one must perform proper rituals of food preparation, consumption, and digestion.

The Cooking Gene by Michael W Twitty

The Cooking Gene offers a fresh perspective on our most divisive cultural issue, race, in this illuminating memoir of Southern cuisine and food culture that traces his ancestry—both black and white—through food, from Africa to America and slavery to freedom.

Southern Food and Civil Rights by Frederick Douglass Opie

Southern Food and Civil Rights identifies the connection between food nourishing African Americans’ fight for freedom. Written by Frederick Douglass Opie, professor of history and foodways at Babson College in Massachusetts, the book specifically explores how Southern comfort food fueled the movement for progressive change. For example, Paschal’s restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia provided both safety and sustenance for civil rights leaders. Opie also includes beloved recipes associated with this era.

Black Food Geographies by Ashanté M. Reese

In this book, Ashanté M. Reese makes clear the structural forces that determine food access in urban areas, highlighting Black residents’ navigation of and resistance to unequal food distribution systems. Linking these local food issues to the national problem of systemic racism, Reese examines the history of the majority-Black Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, Reese not only documents racism and residential segregation in the nation’s capital but also tracks the ways transnational food corporations have shaped food availability. By connecting community members’ stories to the larger issues of racism and gentrification, Reese shows there are hundreds of Deanwoods across the country. Reese’s geographies of self-reliance offer an alternative to models that depict Black residents as lacking agency, demonstrating how an ethnographically grounded study can locate and amplify nuances in how Black life unfolds within the context of unequal food access.

If you are interested in purchasing any of these books, here is a link to an article that provides a list of Black-owned bookstores you can buy from in person or online.

May we continue to learn the true history and the folks who helped shaped the United States, that our history books continue to fail to inform us on.

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Black History & the American Food System

The American food system has been influenced by countless Black Americans who rarely receive the credit that they deserve

In honor of Black History Month in 2021, we wanted to recognize the contributions that Black Americans have had on our food system throughout history. In our research we found names that are often left out of our history books, even though their contributions have been monumental. 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. While this list is far from comprehensive, here are 28 Black innovators that helped build the American food system as we know it today. 

Combahee River Colony

Before we explore the impact of individuals, we must first acknowledge the impact of a particular group. 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.

James Hemings

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 traveling 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.

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 known 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.

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.

Henry Blair

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.

Martha Jones

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.

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. ⁠

John Stanard

Though little is known about John Stanard’s early life specifically, it is known that he lived and worked in a specific era and place—Newark, New Jersey, in the late 1880s and early 1890s. It was here that Stanard worked to make improvements to kitchen appliances that would eventually lead to innovations in both refrigerator and stove designs that forever changed the way people around the world stored and cooked their food. 

Stanard did not invent the refrigerator itself, vapor-compression, or the liquifying of gases necessary for the development of modern refrigerators, but he did create a manually filled ice chamber that was separate from the main refrigerator unit. The ice-filled chamber was located in the left bottom corner area of the unit, while the main refrigerator section was to the right. He introduced air ducts or holes to help cold air circulate from the ice chamber to the main refrigerator. The cold air, and cold “drip,” was passed from the ice chamber to the refrigerator through cold-air ducts and perforations which created a constant circulation of air maintained through the several chambers. The basic idea of having a “freezer” separate from the main refrigerator unit was his and was eventually expanded on after his contributions.

Aside from his work with refrigeration, Stanard had also worked on innovations to improve the oil stove with a space-saving design that he suggested could be used for buffet-style meals on trains. He received a patent for this improvement and the Stanard stovetop was the first design of many generations of stovetops where food is served hot in portable catering stoves.

Abby Fisher

One Summer day in 1880, a 48-year-old Mrs. Abby Fisher took the stage at the 15th annual San Francisco Mechanics’ Institute Fair to accept two medals: a bronze for best pickles and sauces, and a silver for best assortment of jellies and preserves. The jurors later wrote that “her pickles and sauces have a piquancy and flavor seldom equaled, and, when once tasted, not soon forgotten.”
At this point, Fisher was already a famed, local, culinary authority. She had taken home a diploma at the Sacramento State Fair in 1879, its highest award. Her cooking chops became so revered that the Women’s Co-operative Printing Office published her extensive cookbook, entitled “What Mrs. Fisher Knows About Old Southern Cooking”, in 1881.
Fisher migrated from Alabama with her husband and 11 children to California in 1877. Upon arriving in San Francisco, she used her talents to set up a preserves business. The extraordinary cookbook she put together is one of the first authored by an African-American woman. Besides being a trove for sensational recipes —ranging from savory to sweet, encompassing both the briney and beefy—Fisher’s cookbook also helped to immortalize the culinary imprint of African-Americans.
What’s most remarkable about Fisher’s recipes is that they’re captured in her own words which was a rarity for African Americans at that time. They also provide a clear glimpse into food that she herself made at home for her family rather than what she cooked at plantations early in her life. In recent years, chefs and cultural institutions alike have been cooking Fisher’s specialties and revamping them for 21st-century palates. Abby Fisher paved the way for African American women to be respected and awarded for their contributions to the culinary world, and her recipes have truly stood the test of time.

Judy Reed

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. 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!

Joseph Lee

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.

Alfred Cralle

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Jereline Bethune

While many know the story of Rosa Parks, and how she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, the work of Jereline Bethune is not as widely discussed. Shortly after Parks’ historic act of activism, more bus boycotts began around the city and it was the staff of Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit in Montgomery, AL, owned by the Jereline and her husband Larry, that helped organize parts of those boycotts. These boycotts helped propel the civil rights movement into the national conversation at the time.
Jereline and Larry Bethune first opened the restaurant in 1942; back then it was a nightclub, the Siesta Club, that also sold food. It later shifted focus towards barbeque and became Brenda’s, named for one of their daughters. Jereline’s passion for food was paired with her passion for the civil rights movement, and her restaurant became an important community pillar. Brenda’s Bar-B-Que Pit would go on to become an unofficial center for the local civil rights movement, holding N.A.A.C.P. meetings, printing fliers and planning protests.
But even after the bus boycotts, Ms. Bethune continued her work for the movement. Most notably, she quietly held lessons to teach other African-Americans to read so they could pass the literacy test, which functioned as a way to suppress the black vote during the height of the Jim Crow era. Donetta Bethune, the Bethunes’ granddaughter, described it as: “Let’s learn how to read. Let’s learn how to vote. Let’s go after our own rights so we never have to be treated in a way that we’re not equal to again. In the black community, that’s how they lived back then. Everyone helped each other, or else how could you get by or how could you make it through?” Jereline also continued organizing and supporting boycotts and protests. She can be found pictured directly in the center of this image taken from the notorious March from Selma in 1965.
Brenda’s is family-run to this day, and it still feeds locals its popular ribs, pig ears and chopped pork. But more important than the food, is the legacy that was left behind.

Edna Lewis

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.

Ralph J. Bunche

Ralph J. Bunche was an accomplished scholar, diplomat, and the first African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950. In addition to his numerous contributions to the fields of politics and diplomacy, Bunche was also an expert on international food issues and an advocate for food security.

Bunche was deeply concerned about the impact of food scarcity and malnutrition on global peace and stability. He believed that addressing food insecurity was crucial to promoting peace and stability, and he worked tirelessly to raise awareness about the issue. Bunche played a key role in the development of the United Nations’ food policies and programs, and he was instrumental in establishing the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Bunche was also a champion of sustainable agriculture, advocating for policies that would ensure the long-term viability of food systems. He recognized the importance of small-scale farmers and the role they play in promoting food security, and he worked to empower communities to take control of their own food systems. He was a visionary who understood the critical importance of food security, and he worked tirelessly to promote peace and stability through sustainable agriculture and food policies.

Mahaboob Ben Ali

Mahaboob Ben Ali (AKA Ben Ali) was an Indo-Trinidadian American entrepreneur who founded the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl restaurant in Washington, D.C. He is known as a pioneer of Black entrepreneurship in the American food industry as his restaurant has played a prominent role during the Civil Rights era and hosted countless politicians throughout the years.

Ben’s Chili Bowl was founded in 1958 and quickly became a popular destination for chili and other classic American foods. Ali was a strong advocate for Black entrepreneurship and was known for his commitment to supporting the local community. He was active in various organizations and initiatives aimed at promoting entrepreneurship and helping small businesses succeed. In 1968 following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, most businesses along the street where his restaurant is located were either damaged or looted by angry demonstrators. However, Ben’s Chili Bowl was untouched as the community knew of Ali’s contributions and importance as a gathering spot for Black residents of Washington D.C. 

In recognition of his contributions to the American food system and the Black community, Mahaboob Ben Ali was honored with numerous awards and recognition, including being inducted into the Restaurant Hall of Fame.

Zephyr Wright

Zephyr Wright drew in crowds with her comfort food. But the one person who may have benefited the most was Lyndon B. Johnson.
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.”
Wright was known to have told Johnson of her experiences with discrimination which ultimately guided his decision making process in regards to Civil Rights changes at the time. Leonard H. Marks, the director of the United States Information Agency at the time of Johnson’s presidency, was one witness to this. “When Sammy and I drive to Texas and I have to go to the bathroom, like Lady Bird or the girls, I am not allowed to go to the bathroom,” Mr. Marks recounted Wright telling Johnson. (Her husband, Sammy, was Johnson’s driver.) “I have to find a bush and squat. When it comes time to eat, we can’t go into restaurants. We have to eat out of a brown bag.”
When Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Wright was there. After he finished, he gave her a pen he used and said, “You deserve this more than anybody else.”

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.

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.

Moe Burton

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.
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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.
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Bryant-Central, unfortunately, closed in 1978, but Seward Co-op filled the need for healthy and affordable food in this neighborhood.
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“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

Leah Chase

Leah Chase was a legendary New Orleans chef and civil rights activist who made significant contributions to the American food system. She was the proprietor of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant, which became a hub for the Civil Rights Movement in New Orleans. With her delicious Creole cuisine and warm hospitality, Leah Chase earned a reputation as the “Queen of Creole Cuisine.” Her restaurant was a safe haven for African American activists, politicians, and artists, and her kitchen served as a melting pot for the exchange of ideas and strategies.

Chase was a passionate advocate for food justice, using her platform to highlight the cultural significance of Creole cuisine and the role of black women in Southern cooking. She was also a strong supporter of local and sustainable agriculture, using locally grown ingredients to create her delicious dishes. Her cookbook, “The Dooky Chase Cookbook,” is a testament to her culinary skills and a celebration of Creole cuisine.

Leah Chase’s impact on the American food system is immeasurable. She was a trailblazer who broke down barriers and challenged the status quo, paving the way for future generations of black chefs and restaurateurs. Her legacy continues to inspire and influence the culinary world, and her impact on the American food system will be felt for generations to come.

Vertamae Grosvenor

Vertamae Grosvenor was a renowned chef, author, cultural commentator, and a pioneering voice in the culinary world. She is most notably known for using her platform to celebrate the rich cultural heritage of Gullah people and their cuisine to advocate for food justice. Gullah people are descendants of enslaved West and Central Africans who were brought to the Lowcountry region of South Carolina and Georgia to work on rice and indigo plantations. Despite being isolated from mainstream American culture, the Gullah people developed a rich and vibrant culture that blended African and American traditions.

Grosvenor was a culinary trailblazer, bringing the flavors and traditions of Gullah cuisine to a wider audience. She was passionate about preserving the cultural heritage of the Gullah people, and she used her cooking skills to share their stories and celebrate their history. Her cookbook, “Vibration Cooking,” is a testament to her culinary skills and a celebration of Gullah cuisine.

In addition to her contributions to the culinary world, Grosvenor was also a vocal advocate for food justice. She recognized the important role that food plays in shaping culture and identity, and she used her platform to raise awareness about the importance of food sovereignty and food access. She was a strong supporter of local and sustainable agriculture, and she believed that everyone should have access to healthy and nutritious food.

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Martin Luther King Jr- Quotes beyond “I Have a Dream”

Today (1/16/23) is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a federally recognized holiday that has been observed since 1983. Martin Luther King Jr. dedicated his life to Civil Rights and the struggle of the working class; becoming a martyr at age 39 after being assassinated in 1968.

Today is a day in which you will see many businesses share a photo and well-known quote from MLK with their logo conveniently placed in the corner to show their acknowledgment of this holiday. We have all heard the commonly known quotes shared in the iconic “I Have A Dream” speech, but MLK was so much more than what was said on that day. Unfortunately, most modern narratives have watered down his messages, taken what was said out of context, and leave out some of his more “radical” thoughts.

Below are some quotes that were most likely not in your high school curriculum, but are still as equally powerful and relevant for today’s ongoing events:

“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?” 

“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”

“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

“One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

 

“One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.”

“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“The problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.” — The Three Evils of Society, 1967

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality.” 

Links to his full speech’s and letters:
Today we remember MLK and his fight for equality and justice, but we must remember his lessons and determination every day and actively work towards creating a better, equal future for all.

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Fairtrade Farmers are More Resilient

A 2022 study finds fair trade farmers experience increased economic resilience, social wellbeing, environmental sustainability and governance of their cooperatives, particularly in times of global crisis.

The Fairtrade System uses 2 price mechanisms, the minimum price and the premium, to ensure farmers earn a reliable and, well, fair income. These price mechanisms represent a safety net not only for the farmers who grow the food, but for their co-ops and communities more broadly. From 2012 to 2022 Fairtrade farmers experienced increased earnings, the ability to withstand periods of financial instability and boosted savings. In the case of Fairtrade certified La Florida cooperative in Peru, farmers reported incomes 50% higher than those of non-Fairtrade farmers. 

The study also found Fairtrade cooperatives enjoy

  • stronger governance

  • greater transparency

  • more democratic decision-making

  • increased gender equality

  • improved workplace health and safety

80% of the world’s food comes from 608 million family farms, with one third of those farming less than 5 acres of land. Not surpisingly, the overlapping global crises of recent years have hit smallholder farms in Global South countries the hardest. With pressure from consumers to keep prices low in the United States, costs are often passed back to small farmers and the land itself. Renato Alvarado, Minister of Agriculture and Livestock in Costa Rica, explains, “producers bear the production costs on our shoulders and the profits remain in the hands of others.” 

Carmen is a member of the CONACADO cooperative, and by joining the Fairtrade certified co-op, she has been able to tap into their collective bargaining power when it comes to pricing. Through the co-op, she has secured a better price for her cocoa making it possible to achieve her goals of scaling production and diversifying her crops. And for Carmen, cocoa isn’t just about her own business. It’s about the community working and thriving together. Shoppers in the US are directly participating in this community by purchasing products made with ingredients from Fairtrade certified farms like Carmen’s.

The findings of this study underscore our continued commitment to carrying and promoting as many fair trade products as possible at the Co-op. Purchasing fair trade products at the Davis Food Co-op not only helps support our store and local economy, but ensures that we are also being good global stewards by supporting the fair treatment of small farmers and producers worldwide.

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Reclaiming Indigenous Food Sovereignty

What was once a rare disease, type two diabetes is now the highest amongst Native American and Alaskan Native adults and children than any other racial and ethnic group in the United States. Those children, particularly living on or near reservation and tribal lands, are more likely to experience type 2 diabetes, food insecurity, and obesity in comparison to all other children in the United States. Food access is an issue at multiple levels: access to seasonally available wild foods, financial access to fresh, whole foods, and access to the cultural knowledge to prepare and preserve traditional foods. The biggest contributors to this loss in food access were forced removals from native lands onto barren reservations, forced assimilation in Native American Boarding Schools, and the government-provided commodity food that was then distributed to those on reservations. Those foods commonly included white flour, lard, sugar, dairy products, and canned meats- a major contrast from the unprocessed, whole, traditional foods they were use to.

It is because of this epidemic, people within the Indigenous communities are working towards an indigenous foods movement as a means of cultural renewal, environmental sustainability, and a way to reclaim Food Sovereignty.

“Indigenous food sovereignty is the act of going back to our roots as Indigenous peoples and using the knowledge and wisdom of our people that they used when they oversaw their own survival. This includes the ability to define one’s own food sources and processes, such as the decision to hunt, trap, fish, gather, harvest, grow and eat based on Indigenous culture and ways of life.”

Below, is a TedxTalk from Sean Sherman, who further discusses where the traditional knowledge got lost, and how himself and many other indigenous folks are taking matters into their own hands, reclaiming their Indigenous Food Sovereignty.

Here, we will be listing just a few of the many Indigenous people/ Indigenous-led Organizations reclaiming Food Sovereignty within the United States.

Indigikitchen

An online cooking show dedicated to re-indigenizing diets using digital media. Using foods native to their Americas, Indigikitchen gives viewers the important tools they need to find and prepare food in their own communities. Beyond that, it strengthens the ties to their cultures and reminds them of the inherent worth of their identities while fueling their physical bodies.

Brian Yazzie “Yazzie the Chef”

A Diné/Navajo chef and food justice activist from Dennehotso, Arizona and based out of Saint Paul, MN. He is the founder of Intertribal Foodways catering company, a YouTube creator under Yazzie The Chef TV, a delegate of Slow Food Turtle Island Association, and a member at I-Collective. Yazzie’s career is devoted to the betterment of tribal communities, wellness, and health.

Sean Sherman, The Sioux Chef

Sean Sherman, Oglala Lakota, born in Pine Ridge, SD, has been cooking across the US and World for the last 30 years. His main culinary focus has been on the revitalization and awareness of indigenous foods systems in a modern culinary context. Sean has studied on his own extensively to determine the foundations of these food systems which include the knowledge of Native American farming techniques, wild food usage and harvesting, land stewardship, salt and sugar making, hunting and fishing, food preservation, Native American migrational histories, elemental cooking techniques, and Native culture and history in general to gain a full understanding of bringing back a sense of Native American cuisine to today’s world.

The Sioux Chef team works to make indigenous foods more accessible to as many communities as possible. To open opportunities for more people to learn about Native cuisine and develop food enterprises in their tribal communities.

Three Sisters Gardens

Farmer Alfred Melbourne is the owner and operator of Three Sisters Gardens and a long time resident of West Sacramento. Based on traditional native teachings, Three Sisters Gardens is an Indidgenous-led organization with a mission to teach at risk youth how to grow/harvest/distribute organic vegetables, connect Native youth back to the land, build connections with community elders, and reclaim food sovereignty. They donate food to the Yolo Food Bank, and also hold a “Free Farm” stand where they offer their veggies free to to the community.  

 

Linda Black Elk

Linda Black Elk is an ethnobotanist who serves as the Food Sovereignty Coordinator at United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota. She specializes in teaching about Indigenous plants and their uses as food and medicine. She teaches classes like “Food Preservation and Storage” and “From Farm and Forage to Fork.” She also uses her wealth of knowledge and charismatic ways of connecting through her YouTube channel, covering topics like making homemade cedar blueberry cough syrup, drying squash varieties, and how to make plant-based medicines at home for various health support.
Black Elk’s drive to make wild plants and plant medicine accessible, applicable, and relevant is so strong it resonates throughout all she does. She is also a founding board member of the Mni Wichoni Health Circle, an organization devoted to decolonized medicines.

Reclaiming control over local food systems is an important step toward ensuring the long-lasting health and economic well-being of Native people and communities. Native food system control has proven to increase food production, improve health and nutrition, and eliminate food insecurity in rural and reservation-based communities, while also promoting entrepreneurship and economic development.
This is Indigenous resilience, moving through the era of disconnection to their foods and traditions and reclaiming their intergenerational knowledge.

The Davis Food Co-op occupies land that belongs to three federally recognized Patwin tribes: Cachil DeHe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community, Kletsel Dehe Wintun Nation, and Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation.

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Supporting our Veterans

For many, national holidays do not carry the significance that they deserve.

Some see it merely as a day that they have off of work or a day that they have to prepare for their bank being closed. For those that do have to work, it may seem as if there is no change to their routine and therefore no realization that there is even a holiday happening. And for others, there is the acknowledgement of the holiday with only a brief, yet fleeting, moment of reflection… 

Let this blog serve as an opportunity to find the ways that you can truly acknowledge this year’s Veterans Day. In this blog we will cover two issues that disproportionately impact Veterans and share some resources and organizations that are working to help.

(It should be noted that the resources provided in this blog are in no way meant to be a complete list. There are many great organizations across the country that are doing meaningful work to help Veterans)

First, the History of Veterans Day

The photo that you see here was taken in Stenay, Meuse in France on November 11, 1918: two minutes before the armistice ending World War I went into effect. A year from this date, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as the first commemoration of “Armistice Day” with the following words:

“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations”

Armistice Day was recognized but not made an official national holiday until 1938. WWI was said to be “the war to end all wars” and that was an honest sentiment of the time. However, in 1954, after World War II saw the greatest military mobilization in the nation’s history and after American forces had fought in Korea, the Act of 1938 that made Armistice Day a national holiday was amended to change “Armistice” to “Veterans” in its title. From this day forward, Veterans Day became a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

From the US Department of Veterans Affairs history page of the holiday:

“Veterans Day continues to be observed on November 11, regardless of what day of the week on which it falls. The restoration of the observance of Veterans Day to November 11 not only preserves the historical significance of the date, but helps focus attention on the important purpose of Veterans Day: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.”

WW1 was referred to as “the war to end all wars” but it was anything but. We see now that this once idealistic slogan is unfortunately far from reality a century later. As a result, our Veterans, no matter which era they served in, have oftentimes endured hardship and trauma that alters their lives forever.

Issues Veterans Face

Veterans Day should go beyond just expressing appreciation for those who have served. We should be doing more than Veterans Discounts at restaurants, moments of silence before sporting events and saying a simple “thank you for serving” in passing. The truth of the matter is that to properly appreciate our Veterans, we should be finding the ways that we can support them in their battle against a couple of unique issues that many of them face upon returning home that you may not be aware of. 

Mental health issues and homelessness are struggles that many Americans face. Veterans of the US Military are disproportionately impacted by these issues. While these situations are dire, there are organizations and resources to support that are doing great work to attempt a remedy to these issues.

 

Mental Health

According to a 2014 study cited by the National Alliance of Mental Illness, nearly 1 in 4 active duty members showed signs of a mental health condition. The most common way that these conditions manifested were through:

  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Traumatic events, often experienced during one’s time in the Military can come from combat, assault, witnessing disasters or sexual assault. These experiences can have long-lasting negative effects such as trouble sleeping, anger, nightmares, and substance abuse. The aforementioned 2014 study found that the rate of PTSD can be up to 15 times higher than civilians.
  • Depression: Depression that interferes with daily life and normal functioning is five times more likely for Veterans and active duty members than civilians.
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI): A significant blow to the head or body, often as a result of combat, can later cause headaches, fatigue or drowsiness, memory problems and mood changes & swings.

In the most severe cases, unfortunately, there are Veterans who turn to suicide at alarming rates. According to the 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report, Veteran suicides in 2020 exceeded those of nonveterans in the U.S. by 57.3%. A total of 6,146 Veterans died from suicide in 2020 alone. That year, suicide was the the second leading cause of death among Veterans under the age of 45.

Mental Health Resources and Organizations to Support:

Veterans Crisis Line

Veterans in crisis, or people who are concerned about a loved one that is a Veteran, can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 988 then press “1” or text 838255 to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7, 365 days a year.

Web chat is also available here: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/

 Wounded Warrior Project

With the incredible support of donors, the Wounded Warrior Project has provided over 40,000 hours of intensive outpatient care and therapy sessions in just the past year- helping veterans and their families live happier and more fulfilling lives.

Learn more and donate here: https://www.woundedwarriorproject.org/programs/mental-wellness

 The Headstrong Project

The Headstrong Project treats an average of 1,400 Veterans every month. Furthermore, 90% of the Veterans who participate in their programs report an improved quality of life. For example, 7 out of 10 of their clients report a decrease in suicidal thoughts and 8 out of 10 report improvements in their relationships.

Learn more and donate here: https://theheadstrongproject.org/the-headstrong-experience/

K9s for Warriors

Since their founding, K9s For Warriors has matched over 700 service dogs with veterans suffering from mental health conditions. 82% of veterans who participated in their programs reported a decline in suicidal thoughts, and 92% reported a reduction or elimination of prescription medications.

Learn more and donate here: https://k9sforwarriors.org/warrior-journey/

Homelessness 

On November 3, 2022 the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) announced preliminary results that showed that there are 33,136 unhoused Veterans nationwide. The results claim an 11% decline in this number since 2020 but there are many who believe that these numbers may be underestimated as it relies on sometimes unreliable local counts. Regardless, the number of unhoused Veterans, in a country that prides itself on showing appreciation for them, is staggering.

Homelessness is a huge topic of conversation in California. We have all seen the effects of homelessness which we have explored in a previous blog. However, the scope of Veterans experiencing homelessness in California is hardly the main focus of these public discussions. HUD estimates that 1/3 of our nation’s unhoused Veterans live in California, which means we have over 10,000 Veterans experiencing homelessness in our state alone. To put that into perspective, imagine a sold out football game at UC Davis Health Stadium packed to the brim with people sitting shoulder to shoulder. Now imagine that everyone in that stadium is an unhoused Veteran of the US Military.

Here are some more eye opening facts about unhoused Veterans in the US: 

  • The amount of female Veterans is sharply on the rise: in 2006, there were 150 unhoused female veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. That number rose to 1,700 in 2011 and is estimated to be closer to 6,000 in 2022. Studies conducted by HUD show that female Veterans are two to three times more likely to experience homelessness than any other group in the US adult population.
  • Nearly 56% of all unhoused Veterans are Black or Hispanic, despite only accounting for 13.6% and 18.9% of the US population respectively.
  • About 53% of unhoused Veterans have disabilities. Right around 50% suffer from mental illness, 67% suffer from substance abuse problems and many suffer from a combination of both
  • Unhoused Veterans experience homelessness longer. On average, an unhoused Veteran will experience homelessness for nearly six years compared to four years reported among non-Veterans.

Unhoused Veteran Resources and Organizations to Support:

 The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans(NCHV)  is recognized as a leading entity to shape policy for Veterans and are often asked to testify in front of Congress. Since 2008, they’ve given 30 testimonials on behalf of unhoused Veterans. They have also allocated more than $700 million dollars to improve and expand services for unhoused Veterans.

Learn more and donate here: https://nchv.org/veteran-homelessness/

Nation’s Finest, Sacramento

Nation’s Finest provides supportive services to very low-income Veteran families living in or transitioning to permanent housing through the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grant. Nation’s Finest provides eligible Veteran families with outreach, case management, and assistance in obtaining VA and other mainstream benefits that promote housing stability and community integration.

Learn more and donate here: https://nationsfinest.org/our-services/#transitional-housing

 

Operation Dignity

Operation Dignity helps an estimated 1,000 Veterans in Alameda County annually. In 2021, they served 200 unhoused Veterans and 83% of these Veterans in their transitional housing program moved on to secure permanent housing.

Learn more and donate here: https://operationdignity.org/

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Davis Forest School – DFC’s 2022 Apple a Day Recipient

Each year, the Co-op donates $0.10 for every pound of apples sold over the course of our fiscal year through our “Apple a Day” program. With 60,275.25 lbs of apples sold from October 2021 – September 2022, we were left with $6,275.25 to donate to a local nonprofit organization.

For this year’s donation, we have chosen Davis Forest School as our recipient.

The $6,275.25 donation will directly support the expansion of their Winter 2023 Program to include an additional skill-based class for 15 more children in the Davis community.

Our Marketing Manager Vince and Education and Outreach Specialist Anna recently sat down with founder Candice Wang, and had her answer a few questions about Davis Forest School: 

1. Can you Tell us about Davis Forest School and how it came to fruition?

Davis Forest School is a non-profit nature play and outdoor education organization, and
was founded in early 2018. Our goal is to promote and cultivate understanding of, and
empathy for, the natural world, and for the local bioregion (in particular, the ecosystem of Putah Creek and the lower Sacramento River watershed).
Our programming is based on the forest school model, which meets outdoors in the wild, over time, and is a co-creating experience between children and the Forest Mentors.
This organization came to fruition from me being a mother to very spirited and wild
children. Motherhood was an initiation into deconditioning and healing from certain
aspects of my own childhood, and a commitment to following the lead of my children in
what they need. We discovered the forest school model together, and the first time I
spent hours in nature with my kiddos, I just felt so much peace. I could see all the ways
we are disconnected from our lives, each other, the land, and how important it is to find a sense of connection again. My children’s wildness led me to this work, and the layers of depth with our connection to this land keeps me here.
Davis Forest School is also a testament of what can be created from a tapestry of
community members who share a vision and are deeply devoted and passionate to their work. Rosemary Roberts, a parent to one of our first students, took on running the
school when I moved away for a couple of years, and was the person to establish DFS
as a community entity. We are now supported and led by a team of parents behind the
scenes. We also have the most wonderful Forest Mentors who take so much ownership
over what we do, such as Molly Damore Johann, who was the person to connect us
with this opportunity with the Davis Food Co-op.

2. Why do you believe this way of schooling is a good alternative to formal schooling?

For now, we don’t replace other schooling models because we mostly run as an
afterschool program (although we have a homeschool morning class that we would like to expand!). Our organization is more of a counter environment to the formal schooling that children receive, and divests from our culture’s fixation on busyness. Rather than having a top-down model of education, we allow space for spontaneous learning through unstructured imaginative play and exploration. Our staff members are “Forest Mentors”, and not “teachers”, and take on the role of guides for the kiddos during our time out in nature together. We trust children in their innate sense to learn through play and exploration. Our programming is child-led, although we follow a daily rhythm and include naturalist studies, nature connection routines, and earth skills. When children are told what to do, what they need to learn, or what our time together should look like, this can cause them to shut down and resist what’s in front of them. When children have space to just be, their curiosity and sense of openness expands. Children learn so much from following their curiosities, and by returning to the same natural spaces over and over again, throughout the seasons and years.

3. Why is land acknowledgement and reparations an important part of Davis
Forest School?

Our work is deeply entwined with the land. Since time immemorial, the Patwin people have been stewards of this land. Acknowledging that we are on occupied Patwin land, through words, is the very bare minimum entry into land acknowledgement. We are learning that true land acknowledgement comes from how we run our program, and through partnering with Indigenous folks and support organizations. As a society, we need to move away from a model where we commodify nature, where we view it as something to further extract from. Nature programming can easily become about how nature can serve us. Beyond words, land acknowledgment is embracing and honoring Indigenous models of being in reciprocal relationship with the land.
DFS offers reparations to our Black and Indigenous families because we are running land-based programming on stolen land, in a country that was built on the backs of Black labor. Offering reparations is also a step towards dismantling systems of power, and prioritizing equity, in outdoor spaces.

    4. What are some of the things the kiddos have said they enjoy the most in the programs?

    We hear from the kiddos that they really enjoy swimming and playing in the creek. They love whittling, building shelter, catching crayfish, and going on expeditions. The kiddos have high-excitement moments when we see certain animals, like an otter eating trout by the shoreline. The children love our Forest Mentors, and having time together each week. At the start of our Fall Program last month, a few children said that Forest School is unlike any school they’ve been to before, and that they are free to play. I think children come into our program expecting what they know to be school, because we have “school” in our name. It reaffirms the work we do when we witness children open up and embrace their sense of autonomy in a higher freedom environment.
     

    5. When someone donates to Davis Forest school, what does it go towards? What
    are other ways people in the community can support Davis Forest School?

    Right now, all donations go directly towards our equity fund for tuition assistance and reparations, which supports our goal of creating more equity in the outdoor space. People in the community can also support us by continuing to share DFS with others, and by sharing with us grants and funding opportunities that are relevant to our organization. We are in a critical stage of growth and formation, where we need to find the balance between being able to offer accessible programming and being able to provide sustainable jobs for the amazing team we have. I do want to acknowledge how we already feel so embraced by this wonderful community. Davis Forest School is here today because of the people who understand and appreciate the work we do, and have uplifted us throughout the past few years. We very much look forward to expanding and continuing to anchor in this work.

    Learn more about

    Davis Forest School here

    *Photos provided by Natascha Paxton and Candice Wang

     

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