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Connections: Farmers and Chefs Linked by Food

Last October, our friend chef Chef BJ Dennis gave us a call to ask if it was okay that he recommended his friend chef and author Michael Twitty, stop by to interview us for a piece he was working on. We said sure, we were familiar with Michael’s work. A few years back we attended a workshop he taught during the Sustainable Agriculture Conference put on by Carolina Farm Stewardship Association. We loved the workshop and bought a copy of his book, The Cooking Gene, and went to his book signing. We became acquainted with BJ Dennis when he prepared the food for the first SC Black Farmers conference in Charleston, put on by Germaine H. Jenkins and the staff, and volunteers of Fresh Future Farm .

Chef BJ Dennis

We follow BJ on instagram and after many messages about our mutual interest in food, history, Gullah culture and food-ways, traditions and farming, we met. We have grown tremendously from our interactions with BJ as he introduced us to more chefs and farmers with the same interests.

On the day Michael Twitty arrived we were pleased to be reacquainted with him and to meet his friends and traveling companions, chefs David and Tonya Thomas, who are husband and wife. They are top chefs in Maryland and David was the Chopped Grand Champion 2018. They were the founders of Ida B’s Table in Baltimore who recently launched the H3irloom Food Group, ‘a new culinary enterprise offering catering for events as well as smaller get-togethers’.

They were on a tight schedule with no time for a meal but after we exchanged greetings we offered our guests some cool water infused with lemongrass, cucumber, mint and rosemary for it was a rather warm day. Michael sat down with me to discuss the article and gather information while Tony gave David and Tonya a tour and offered samples of the produce. Altogether, we had an enjoyable time together. Michael was very interested in how we added agritourism to our farm, our inclusion of camping through Hipcamp, and now offer our Gullah Campfire Supper with Stories and Songs. During the suppers we are usually joined by our relative and neighbor Mr. Robert Middleton, a former student of the Penn School, Army veteran, local historian and for many years a docent at the York W. Bailey Museum. Mr. Middleton tells stories of his family growing up here on the island, and leads songs from the praise house and local churches. Tony and I share our Gullah heritage as well as our own stories with a mixture of some of our favorite local songs, a few are from the collection, Slave Songs of the United States, “Originally published in 1867, this book is a collection of songs of African-American slaves. A few of the songs were written after the emancipation, but all were inspired by slavery.” The majority of the songs were collected from properties on the Sea Islands of South Carolina while the authors, also abolitionists, Allen, William Francis; Ware, Charles Pickard; Garrison, Lucy McKim were housed at Coffin Point Plantation here on St. Helena Island.

On occasions we lead walking tours front the farm to the Coffin Point Praise House or drive our guests to Penn Center and other points of interest. Either here or at the praise house, we have the opportunity to share the faith of the local people and their trust in God and His Word. The songs reflect their belief in God’s love and faithfulness along with the hope they had in His ability to deliver them just as He did Moses and Daniel.

In November, just before Thanksgiving, we were paid a visit by photographer Olivia Rae James from Travel and Leisure to take some pictures of us and the property. We had a great time with Olivia, she has a wonderful personality and was very pleasant. We walked around the property and talked with her as she took photos from different spots and we also offered her tastes of the produce during the walk. She told us the article was expected to be in the February issue of the magazine and that’s perfect for Black History Month.

Recently, we received a link with copies of the photos taken by Olivia for the article. A few days later a friend tagged us in a post with a link to the article. In the article, one of the photos from here is of Tony holding fruit from the jelly palm or Pindo palm. One of our favorite photos from our farm is of the majestic oaks with the setting sun taken from one of the spots we offer campers. We are grateful and appreciative of the opportunity to share our culture, history and our work on the farm with our community and visitors. To be included in the article along with such well known preservers and trend setters in Gullah culture and food traditions was indeed an honor. You can see that one ever knows how a single meeting, participating in an event or a post on social media can lead to a great opportunity. “Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!” Psalm 107:8 NKJV


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