Tuesday, October 18


Our Cultivated South symposium is just days away! Whether you’re making the trip to Oxford or not, we want to introduce you to some of our symposium participants. You likely have eaten with some of the chefs who will be cooking for us.

But we’re betting you haven’t heard Ed Davis of Emory and Henry College map out the geography of collard greens. Maybe you haven’t looked closely at the hand embroidery that distinguishes Natalie Chanin’s work for her Alabama Chanin fashion label. Perhaps you haven’t listened to Shirley Sherrod holding forth on race relations and agricultural possibilities.

Below, in their own words, meet a baker’s dozen of scholars, artists, and farmers with something important to say about the Cultivated South.

Phil Blank is an artist and a librarian for the State Library of North Carolina’s NCKnows virtual reference project. He also plays the accordion, tenor banjo, and tsimbl in the klezmer band Gmish. He is the recipient of this year’s John Egerton Prize.

“There is a natural joy and humor at seeing the mind’s many images at the same party, talking to each other. I invite everyone I know and try to create a place that is neither sad nor happy, neither ironic nor sober, as weighty as history and as light as sound. In this way, the paintings keep me in an enjoyable state of chaos.”  —Artist’s statement for an exhibition at Blue Spiral gallery in Asheville, North Carolina, winter 2010

Natalie Chanin is a fashion designer who markets her hand-embroidered clothing under the name Alabama Chanin. She designed the costumes for the Leaves of Greens collard opera.

“Sustainability also relies on the human skills necessary to manipulate materials into usable objects.... In striving to build truly sustainable communities, we must learn to respect and honor the relationships between materials, products, and individuals—skilled workers and artisans, who keep our traditions, manufacturing processes, and ‘Living Arts’ alive.”  —“Does the Art of Craft and Handmade Matter in Fashion?” by Natalie Chanin, ecouterre.com, January 2010

Ed Davis is a professor of geography and environmental studies at Emory and Henry College in Virginia. He will speak on the origin and diffusion of collard greens as a cultural tradition in the South, and he has a book forthcoming on the same topic.

“My colleague John Morgan and I have been curious about several things: the decline of home gardening since World War II, and the unique history, botany, and geography of collards as a leafy vegetable—none of the other vegetables have such an interesting background! No geographer has done a food study at this scale, since the South is such a large cultural region, so it made for a fascinating challenge.”  —In an interview with Mary Lou Cheatham, June 2011

Elizabeth Engelhardt, professor of American studies at the University of Texas-Austin, is the author of A Mess of Greens. She will speak about the working-class farm woman as prototypical locavore.

“Greens can be seen as a protest against the time clock that industrialization introduced. Gathering greens served as a means for both men and women to resist new factory and mine-driven gender roles, as a walk in the woods did not involve company scrip or time clock.”  —In an interview with Vivé Griffith, November 2005

Eleanor Finnegan teaches religion at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina. She will speak about the Nation of Islam’s farming projects. [To read a preview of Finnegan’s symposium talk, please click here]

“The Islamic textual tradition concerning land is built upon the idea that land is owned by God and given as a gift to God’s creatures. Therefore, people can use land for their benefit if it does not cause excessive harm.... Land has often been a place where Muslims can embody their religious and environmental values and are free to create religious communities, institutions, and identities.”  —“Images of ‘Land’ Among Muslim Farmers in the U.S.,”by Eleanor Finnegan, 2010

Amos Kennedy is the proprietor of Kennedy Prints!, a letterpress operation in Gordo, Alabama. You can ogle his letterpress and prints with such slogans as “Okra: The People’s Vegetable” at Southside Gallery on Friday morning of the symposium.

“The American dream is about self-determination. And self-determination can only occur through cooperation of all people. You cannot be free unless you depend upon other people.”  —From the documentary film Proceed and Be Bold: Bringing Race and Art to the Masses, by Laura Zinger/20k Films, 2009

Richard McCarthy is the director of Market Umbrella in New Orleans, Louisiana. He will share his hopes for small-scale agriculture and local farmers’ markets in a dialogue with Rashid Nuri.

“Market Umbrella’sparticular belief in farmers’ markets is the promise for these ancient mechanisms (when purposefully reinvented) to serve as platforms for experiential learning. Farmers and fishers learn about the consumer trends; shoppers learn about food sources and seasons. And ultimately, everyone learns about each other. Food is a discussion starter that takes us all into unknown territory about one another’s lives.”  —In an interview with The Oxford American, May 2010

Rashid Nuri, an urban farmer and agricultural advocate, directs Truly Living Well Natural Urban Farms in Atlanta. He will discuss small farms and markets with Richard McCarthy.

“If I control your food, I control you. So I think food sovereignty, food self-sufficiency, is very important. We have so many food deserts in the city. We use the food production as a leverage for helping people attain horticultural literacy and providing agricultural education. And through that process, we are engaged in community building and community development.”  —Informational video from trulylivingwell.com

Felder Rushing is the “Gestalt Gardener” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s Think Radio and the father of the slow gardening movement. He will chronicle the history of Long Beach, Mississippi’s Long Red radish.

“Felder has had a small garden of flowers, herbs, and vegetables—along with assorted accessories—in the back of various pickup trucks since 1988, when he started with just a sack of potting soil. He worked up to a larger bale of potting soil, and currently to a custom-made rust-proof box (and rubber mat to prevent rust in the truck bed) in the back of his dad's 1988 Ford F-150. He drives many thousands of miles a year—from Mississippi to San Antonio, Chicago, Toronto, Boston, and down to Key West—through wind, rain, snow, and drought; the garden has withstood temperatures ranging from 105 down to 9 degrees F, and Felder has an official document (compliments of the Lake Charles, Louisiana police department) attesting that it can tolerate at least 81 mph (speed is a great insect control).WHY? Simply to prove that anyone can have a garden, anywhere. ’Nuff said.”  —Part of Rushing’s self-description from his website, felderrushing.net

Shirley Sherrod is a community organizer and rural activist. She is the former USDA director of Rural Development for the state of Georgia. Her talk will discuss the history of African Americans in Southern agriculture as well as her hopes for rural economic improvement and racial reconciliation.

“I made the commitment on the night of my father's death, at the age of 17, that I would not leave the South, that I would stay in the South and devote my life to working for change.”  —From a speech given at the GA NAACP 20th annual Freedom Fund Banquet March 27, 2010, which resulted in Sherrod’s forced resignation from the USDA

Ragan Sutterfield is a farmer and writer based in Little Rock, Arkansas. He also co-founded a school farm and teaches sustainable farming practices to middle school students at Little Rock’s Felder Academy, an alternative school for students with behavior issues. He will speak about sustainable farming practices as an extension of Christian theology. [To read a preview of Sutterfield’s symposium talk, please click here]

“Of course we cannot take on farming and expect to learn about our role within creation any more than we can fast and expect to learn about the nature and control of our desires. If we are to practice farming and learn from it we must take it on as an intentional discipline—ready to see and hear its lessons.”  —Farming as a Spiritual Discipline, by Ragan Sutterfield, 2009

Price Walden is an undergraduate in the music department at the University of Mississippi. He composed Leaves of Greens, an original opera about collard greens, for the symposium.

“The first issue was how to write 30 minutes of music about collard greens without it being a novelty piece. I decided then that instead of explicitly talking about collard greens the entire time, we could talk about other things, but through the lens of collard greens.”  —From his blog, pricewalden.com, August 2011

Kevin Young is one of the most highly acclaimed contemporary poets in the country and a professor at Emory University. Though not all of his poetry focuses on food, he has written odes to such totemic Southern ingredients as pork and pepper vinegar.  He will deliver this year’s opening address on what it means to be cultivated.

“If we cannot see the ways soul food’s ethos of reclamation and reuse—making more than making do, of taking leftovers and leavings and making them not only palatable but also desirable, making it right—if we cannot see this desire as not mere survival but a heroic act of reinvention—then we’re missing out on a large part of the storying tradition of black culture.”  —“Moanin’,” by Kevin Young, Tin House vol. 13, no. 1

For more works by these and other symposium participants, you can download the symposium bibliography by clicking here.