The Edible South-Book Review

While checking out the local/regional shelves at Lemuria Books in Jackson MS (yes you need to stop in there if you are a booklover. And if you live around Jackson, I might even suggest a nice trip one hot weekend to spend a half day in the bookstore, some time in the Fondren co-op and maybe a stroll through Eudora Welty’s garden), I spotted this large book facing out, published last year but one that I had not heard of previously. The title was underwhelming, but the subtitle did intrigue me, as did the identification of it being the same author as Matzoh Ball Gumbo, which I had read and appreciated.

The book is broken into 3 sections: antebellum and post antebellum Southern food (“Plantation South”), early 19th c (“New South”) and post 1950 (“modern South”), which is a very useful way to think about food and folkways in any American region actually. Each section has fascinating information about growing food or cuisine and uses scads of citations from prior research and popular books to showcase each.

The author, Marcie Cohen Harris is a professor of American studies at UNC Chapel Hill and is well known among local food activists across the South. She has taken a wide view of Southern food since Jamestown days, using a great many of our most respected scholars work to weave a compelling and absorbing narrative. What is tricky about the long history here is the need to address earlier inaccuracies and overt racism embedded in some of that scholarship. Cohen Harris does a deft job addressing those shortcomings without deleting what is useful from her predecessors’ work.

The Plantation South section was less comprehensive than I had hoped, especially knowing the beginnings of my own region around New Orleans as a tobacco company for the French, which has led to a commodity and export agricultural system that extends to this day. I had hoped for more about that era and more details of the enslaved and forced labor system of the Southern agriculture system, but it is quite likely that the scholarship was just not there for Cohen Harris to use.

The New South section should be required reading for any researcher or embedded activist working in the South. The founding of the Extension Service, of the home economics and demonstration movement and the research into healthy foods to reduce diet-based illnesses across the impoverished South are examples of the rich tapestry Harris does explore and, for my money, is the best part of the book. Many times, I found myself referring to the notes and bibliography to record the name of the book she refers to in the section. Additionally, I much appreciated the section on Old Southern Tearooms and the account of the deliberate development at the turn of the 20th c of the myth of the genteel South, where a “southern narrative of abundance, skilled black cooks, loyal servants and generous hospitality of gracious planters and their wives” was displayed at places like Colonial Williamsburg, Charleston and of course New Orleans and as a result was completely accepted as the true story of a much more complicated and less romantic time. I certainly hope that her detailed work here separating fact from fiction may help put these embellished or completely fabricated stories of the “old South” in their proper place.

The Modern South section adds history on civil rights (how does it relate to food you say? lunch counter sit-ins, men’s-only lunch rooms anyone?), and history on federal programs like national school lunch program which are thoughtfully offered. The pieces on organizing natural food coops and buying clubs were so very welcome as little is available in popular research about how important these efforts were to the beginnings of the current local food/farmers markets) movement happening today. That leads to my main disappointment with the book – the scarce information on the farmers market/community garden movement of the 1970s-1990s, much less over the last 25 years which has been a dizzying and somewhat gratifying time for food sovereignty work. I can understand how Cohen Harris relates more to the researchers and writers of the Southern food system who focused on home cooking rather than to the (largely) nameless and transient activists and ideas of those same systems, but still, much has been written in the last 45 years not covered here. I can only hope for another book from this author that has the same level of detail, covering the last era from a grassroots or even a policy point of view. In any case, as I told a market leader in one of those vibrant places of local food in the South, this book is definitely a keeper and one destined to be used extensively among researchers, activists and policy makers.
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My new role

Since many people have written to me with congratulations on accepting a staff job with FMC (see below), while others emailed with surprise because they thought I was already on staff, I  thought I’d post something about the news, but really more about my feelings about FMC, as I have had a unique vantage point to observe its evolution.

But first the news here: after many years in an outside support role with FMC, I arrived at the conclusion that the opportunity to work daily on the Farmers Market Metrics and other resource development for markets could be best done as an employee when offered that opportunity by Jen Cheek, our able Executive Director.

I also felt that the organization was at a key moment in its growth and being included in that work was right for my skills to assist and to learn. And since I am going to keep my consulting for markets going, it becomes even simpler for me to share news and ideas and looming issues heard from markets with my FMC team and then even easier to dream up or seek solutions.

What made the personal decision become an employee relatively easy was that I know first hand how thoughtfully and carefully FMC has been built by its two Executive Directors, first Stacy Miller and then Jen, supported and led by its talented and committed volunteer board. To illustrate how committed, I remember how the early versions of the board (made up of market leaders) were so vigilant about designing it in such a way to ensure its continued stability and relevancy for serving the independent market community that they even jettisoned a few early passes at it until it seemed right.

Back in the first days of being the first staff hired, Stacy asked a lot of questions (well she still does that), and I observed her as she gladly checked in with anyone and everyone who was open to talking or working with FMC on farmers market advocacy. That sort of openness to building relationships is crucial for an organization, especially one that hopes to represent a wide range of members. Out of those informal one-on-one conversations and early collaborations, she (later with membership and outreach coordinator Liz Comiskey) slowly built a respected young organization, one with some discipline and good relationships.

(I wonder how many remember those early days when the necessity of having a national organization for markets was not shared by everyone and how, when many of us would discuss the idea with outside stakeholders, we would often be politely rebuffed. How (in some circles) markets were often seen as an anachronism or at least as having found their highest level already and therefore any talk of ongoing support to expand them was largely met with indifference. That tide was turned by the valiant push to expand EBT and access to underserved populations and by constantly stretching the reach of markets as fulcrums of food systems and civic engagement. That work was done by the markets themselves with tiny funds and with a whole bunch of sharing between those early leaders and continues to this day.)

One of Stacy’s regular activities was working closely with the state and network leaders who were building resources, analyzing trends and expanding pilots within markets. It was in that part of her work that I got to know her as we both crisscrossed the US appearing at conferences or working in groups like the Wallace Center Farmers Market Working Group or supporting efforts like Projects For Public Spaces’ Farmers Market Mini-Grant program. Back then, my job at Market Umbrella was to pilot the imaginative set of regional ideas our founder had written into grants and to strategize with him and our advisors how to build the field of markets through replicating those ideas or extracting lessons or analysis.  And after I became a consultant, she stayed in touch, hired me and  was one of the few people back then who agreed that the Farmers Market Metrics work was necessary, letting me talk incessantly about it (well I still do that), relentlessly questioning me when needed.

When she told me of her decision to step down in preparation for the birth of her son, I was a bit deflated, knowing how hard it would be to maintain the supportive energy that FMC was beginning to take advantage of to grow its funded activities. Lucky for us, the right person found FMC next and kept the momentum going, and expanding its reach and depth rather quickly. Whether the timing was just right or Jen visualized it all, she did a speedy job adding the right components while listening to those with opinions or ideas about markets and now, with opinions about FMC itself. And that is a crucial point to make: each ED had a very different primary challenge to overcome and Jen’s was to exponentially grow the income and programs at the same pace as the number of members and partners, while managing the expectations of an emerging organization with its own personality and inertia. All of which is harder to do than it may seem. Far too often, organizations have too many programs at once and members can feel left out, or not enough money for non-project staff and therefore calls and issues are not handled in real time. Having served more than three decades in non-profits, I have seen more entities fail than succeed at being true membership organizations, not guarding against duplicating what is better done by the members or partners, or losing sight as of the issues and remaining barriers that must be addressed at the grassroots level.

Well long story short (although, as my friend Roger would say, it’s too late for that), FMC has ably managed its core purpose without failing its membership on any critical tasks and has important long-term programs in place to support partners and ideas big and small, all the while tirelessly advocating from the seat next to, not in front of markets. Jen also grasped the potential of the Farmers Market Metrics and asked clear questions of Stacy and I (and our early measurement advisors like Paul Freedman of University of Virginia and Alfonso Morales at University of Wisconsin-Madison) and led us in thinking through our plan and kept fundraising to get the ball truly rolling.

Add to that, she had a plan and the skills for staffing with first-rate minds and caring individuals in order to manage its work while asking everyone to remain available for a call or email from a market in need of a reality check or a solution. She also had the maturity and tact to keep Stacy on to assist with analysis and resource writing and Stacy reciprocated with the same and so FMC has had the benefit of her continued presence in crucial ways.

So, when I tell you that I am grateful and honored to be on staff at FMC, I think you can see why. Market Umbrella under Richard McCarthy’s leadership was a tough act to follow and I think somewhere in my mind, I always suspected that FMC might welcome me sooner or later for a spell. Of course, I will remain a roving and critical eye in the market field, offering comfort and strategy to any market or food system that needs my help, but for now, expect that the FMC resource and capacity building work that I gladly get to do these days for (at least) half of my time will continue without interruption for the foreseeable future.

And welcome to my fellow FMC newbie, Honesta.

FMC’s Team is Enjoying Spring Growth!

FMC’s long time consultant, Darlene Wolnik, is now officially an FMC staffer. As Senior Research Associate, Darlene is busily working on the FMC Farmers Market Metrics Project, assisting the Vermont Law School in creating a legal toolkit forfarmers markets, and she is also maintaining her private consulting practice. You can read the full bio for Darlene here.

New to FMC with strong roots in agriculture and nonprofits, Honesta Romberger is our new Communications Associate. Prior to joining the FMC team, Honesta was a member of consulting staff at The Food Trust, a non-profit located in Philadelphia, PA, where she provided expertise and capacity for multiple projects surrounding healthy food access to schools and homeless shelters. Read more about Honesta.

Welcome to FMC!

Help those in Nepal

I am sure that many of you have avenues to assist with those devastated by the recent earthquakes, but if not, these Louisiana folks do truly fine work in Nepal and so are already embedded deeply enough to be able to assess and support what is crucial.  Some of their ideas in the following email are quite local to New Orleans and my apologies in advance if that frustrates anyone, but they certainly have a wide range of ways to assist. I’d love to see some market communities and food systems around the U.S. and beyond step up to fund a full truck of rice, but certainly even having a tarp or poncho fundraiser would be great.


Since our last LHA email update on Nepal a lot has happened including a second earthquake, which I’m sure most of you are current on. Unfortunately two of the places where LHA has been previously involved in Nepal, which were not affected by the first quake, had severe damage from the second one. Still to date, miraculously, no physical bodily injury to any LHA affiliates or their families has been reported, although many have lost their homes and/or have had severe damage to the monasteries where they live. Most up to date research shows more than 7000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of victims are in need of food, water, medicine, shelter, rehousing.

After a careful review of the aid already happening in Nepal we have discovered that the people LHA should focus on are those in the most remote mountain villages. Many of these people (maybe up to a million) will be in tents and makeshift structures for the monsoon and only able to really rebuild once the rain slows in September.  They have to stay in the mountains in order to tend the rice crops.  Getting the crops grown over the summer will be crucial to their survival.  The monsoon can be very cold in the mountains.  Unfortunately the Nepali government is not able to take care of everyone in a timely way. They need our help.

From our experience of seeing the massive amounts of waste in the aftermath of Katrina we have identified some forms of temporary housing materials that can be used in Nepal as roofing before more permanent housing structures get underway.  Here is one example of materials that LHA is providing that will serve as shelter now and will be used for roofing material later:

What is LHA Doing Now:

LHA now has people both in India and Nepal.  We are shopping for the best deals and buying supplies  including sheet metal , tarps , rain gear and rice in Delhi and having them trucked to Kathmandu Nepal (a two day road trip) where our volunteers there will assure that the supplies get to the people in need, the first truck in in route now.

LHA’s main Coordinator in Nepal is Pema. She is from there and is the fiancée of Michael, an LHA Board member from New Orleans who has worked extensively in Nepal, and is now in India organizing the shipments.  We’ll have more volunteers arriving in both India and Nepal over the next few weeks. Please see the attached letter recently received from Pema.

We have also identified Chokgyur Lingpa Foundation to be the organization with which LHA will partner in the days ahead. Pachok Rinpoche, who leads this effort, has visited LHA in New Orleans three times over the past few years and has a strong connection with LHA already. He and his team have been on the ground working since day one after the first quake. All reports I’ve received say that they are doing incredible work in a very organized and efficient way. Please take a minuet to check out the website

What’s happening in New Orleans:

In New Orleans, volunteers now meet at the LHA Community Center  (623 N Rendon) every Tuesday night at 7PM to discuss fund raising events and other plans.  As of now the group has received confirmation from both the Botanical Gardens at City Park and Tipitina’s Club to hold fund raising events in June. LHA now has volunteers and groups as far away as Norway and Germany putting together events and many individual donors have started showing support by making contributions to the LHA website.

How to Help :

Come to the LHA Nepal Relief Meetings on TuesdayNights at 7PM

Organize a fund raising event in your home area

Here are a few ideas for fund raising:

Send this email on to your email lists

Spread awareness about the Nepal situation in any way can

Make a donation to LHA, the Chokgyur Lingpa Foundation or other organizations with minimal overhead costs ( make sure you get maximum benefit out of  your donation)

Prayers and dedication of merit

Thanks for your support

Neil Guidry

LHA President


For Donations to LHA :

Every Dollar goes a long way:

$1400- Full truck load of Rice

$100 – Sheet metal to construct shelter for a family and later use as a roof on their home

$50  – Tent

$15 – Tarp

$5 – Rain Pancho

 100% of donations received by LHA during the month of May will be dedicated to the Nepal projects. Please note, unlike many organizations, LHA is not burdened by managerial and other overhead expenses. Know that your donation directly gets to those in need.

LHA is a 501-c3 Organization – tax ID # 72-1487498 (all donations are tax deductible)


Fashion at farmers markets

The blue-smocked Bill Cunningham, aka the fashion eye of NYC, has turned his gaze to the farmers markets scene (finally). The village “mahket” style of dress was on display for Cunningham this past Saturday at Union Square in Manhattan. He also captures dog interactions, wisteria-wearing women, and pigeon style in his own charming manner.

His street fashion commentary in his weekly video is both avant-garde and anachronistic (meant fondly of course) and worth following even if you don’t focus on clothes.

Thanks to Farmers Market Coalition for sharing this on Facebook on Sunday.

Ala. couple to give away goat cheese farm to essay winner

An Alabama couple will give away their beloved goat cheese farm to the lucky winner of an essay contest who can properly pen why they’re the right person to run the creamery.

Contest rules and entry form

Ala. couple to give away goat cheese farm to essay winner – NY Daily News.

Marijuana Is A Gateway Drug–To Urban Hippie Farming Utopia

This is such a good interview with farmers that covers much more than the growing of marijuana, including what seems to be the interviewer’s introduction to a farm, discussion of free-range livestock, rehabilitation of incarcerated people, direct action organizing, racist policing and farming/feeding as a community effort.

Marijuana cultivation is a felony under California law, although growers are eligible for diversion if there is no evidence they intended to sell their crop.Region Lewis said they soon began growing other crops when they were in season, and decided that farming was something they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.

Bittman on Food in NYT

I’ll believe there’s a food movement when Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush are forced to talk directly about food issues. I’ll believe we’re effective when I see the routine use of antibiotics outlawed and when that first CAFO closes. I’ll know we’ve started to win when anyone who wants to farm real food has land on which to do it, when there are high-quality school lunches that are free for all, when we’ve started talking about providing that same quality dinner to anyone who needs it. Until then, we have a lot of work to do.

Here is the link to Dr. Nestle’s original column that Bittman references.

And a sobering reflection from someone in the comments of Nestle’s piece:

When will the food movement take up issues of farmer justice aka fair wages and some degree of security for those who grow food (at much higher risks than most other careers)? The food movement has left farmers behind in its quest to improve the food system. We aren’t heard. We aren’t even asked what our priorities are. If folks want their food grown “better,” farmers need to be paid for their work. And that includes farmworkers, some of the most mistreated and underpaid people in our food system. Pay us more. We work much longer days and get paid much worse than the academics, policymakers, and activists who are agitating for all this change in the food system, yet we reap no benefits. If anything, farmers must work harder to accommodate these changes, and often the benefits accrue to the top (aka the corporations). Unless the goal of the food movement is to further marginalize farmers, then it is definitely NOT winning. It is merely overseeing changes at the margins in a system that devalues the hard work and labor that goes into growing food, that pumps big money into the hands of the few, and that keeps people unhealthy. These so-called winning efforts are a distraction from the big pictures issues. If the food movement isn’t winning, who is? Corporations who will make even more money from consumers AND farmers as they “healthwash” their images while further consolidating control over the choices we make.