I will always remember the moment I realized I had to become a storyteller. More specifically, the moment when I knew I had to tell these stories. It was when I realized I could never eat okra the same way again; At least not in the blissful, greasy ignorance which I always had. Biting into that green, fried deliciousness now, I know that its tiny, easy-to-miss seeds have a long, hard-to-swallow story.
Ripped from the earth and clenched in tight fists, my seeds once sat hot and mixed in with the sweat and blood lining the palms of my ancestors. Crushed in their hands as they boarded ships, my seeds were gathered in sheer panic, maybe a bewildered desperation to bring a piece of home, but mostly in a sole attempt to stave off starvation.
Braided in the hair of strong African women, my seeds traveled across the ocean to this land. Once planted back in the earth, resilience manifested their growth and these seeds fed my people in secret all over slave plantations in the South.
Today many Black farmers still grow acres of okra (or Gumbo from kingombo in Bantu languages) to feed communities and sustain the agriculture that has been in their blood for generations.
This is just one example of one seed’s story. One of thousands of stories that tells the history and reveals the culture that really lies behind our agriculture.
So I haven’t stopped at okra. I can’t eat anything now without thinking about these stories; these deeply woven stories of race and food that make up our agricultural system.
This is how I came to start the COLOR of FOOD: a photographic documentary telling the stories of farmers of color.
As a brown girl farming myself, I am drawn to exploring not only the stories behind our food and the farmers that grow it, but also the concerning direction I can see the food system and subsequent food movement heading: down a path leaving these untold stories behind and the voices of Black farmers, Indigenous farmers, and Latino and Asian farmers out of the dialogue.
This will only perpetuate the injustice in our nation’s history. It already has, as we can see today in the large gaps of disparity around food access and health in communities of color. Not to mention the land loss and discrimination farmers of color have had to bear for decades.
This thread runs through the stories of farmers of color around the world and throughout history, with accounts of land grabs, corrupt trade agreements putting farmers out of work and farm workers enduring modern day slavery.
But I am not a glutton for pain and suffering. I don’t just cry tears into my okra for all the struggles of Black and Brown farmers around the world. I shine in the resilience of my people. I am striving to preserve, share and amplify the knowledge, tradition and successes that farmers of color carry, while also working to connect and highlight farmers and food leaders of color across the globe.
The COLOR of FOOD includes the documentary as well as a directory and mapping initiative which lists and locates farmers and people of color that have been holding it down in their communities. These folks have been working to revolutionize the food system before “food justice” started trending on Twitter, so I’d say it’s about time they were heard loud and clear.
To the entire beautiful rainbow of farmers, thanks for inspiring me…and making my food taste that much better.
Watch a clip from the film here: