The 5th of July
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This week, V talks to chef and activist Adrian Lipscombe about how she’s helping reclaim the narrative of where food in this country started by empowering people in the fields. Adrian also runs the 40 Acres and A Mule Project, an initiative aimed at preserving the legacy of Black farmers and Black foodways. We’ll hear about what’s causing the dwindling population of Black farmers, why we’re at risk of losing some key elements of Black culture, and how that’s affecting food independence.Follow Chef Adrian at @adie_eats. And learn more about her 40 Acres and a Mule project online and at @40acresproject. Keep up with V on TikTok at @underthedesknews and on Twitter at @VitusSpehar. And stay up to date with us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram at @LemonadaMedia.
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Speaker 2, V Spehar, Adrian Lipscombe
V Spehar 00:01
Hey friends, it is Tuesday, July 5th, 2022. Welcome to V INTERESTING, where we break down the viral and very interesting news that you might have missed.
I’m V Spehar and on July 5th 1852, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech to the ladies of the Rochester anti-slavery sewing society. It was a scathing speech where Douglas questioned whose Independence Day is celebrated on the fourth. At this point in history, millions of people were still enslaved and would remain so for more than a decade. In the speech, Douglas stated.
This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. I answer a day that reveals to him more than all of the days in the year, the injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him. Your celebration is a sham, your boasted liberty and unholy license, your national greatness, swelling vanity. Your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impedance, your shots of liberty and equality. Hallow mockery, your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade as limit, mere bombast, fraud, deception, and piety and hypocrisy, a thin veil to cover up crimes literally disgrace a nation of savages.
170 years later, we are still questioning if we are all equally free, and what is it to even have freedom? My guest today Adrian Lipscombe argues that freedom is not just based in law, but as based in food sovereignty. newly freed slaves were promised land and the ability to farm, to build wealth through their harvest and drive their own culture. But here we are almost two centuries later. And these are freedoms that the black community is still fighting for. That’s why Adrienne, a chef, an activist and the founder of the 40 Acres and a Mule Project is here to chat with me today. Adrian advocates for the return of farmland to Black Farmers was a part of a successful petition to the USDA to forgive unfairly held black farmer debt and educates on food literacy as a way to maintain independence. Adrienne, thank you so much for joining me today.
Adrian Lipscombe 02:28
Oh, thank you for having me. In fact, I usually post his speech every year regarding freedom, how it’s, it’s not his or it’s not ours. And it’s quite interesting to see how many people will post it this year.
I made a whole damn episode out of it.
It’s gonna be quite interesting to see who posts it what demographic post it, how if people are taking the words literally? Or will they really understand the meaning, especially president at that time? And how some of those are taking. I really want somebody like Amanda Gordon to extend that speech. That would be so interesting. I mean, we’re there.
Such an important speech been brought through history in such a way that you would think that he was speaking to maybe like Congress or something, and it wasn’t it, the platform that he had was Corinthian Hall, and he was speaking to the Rochester anti-slavery sewing society, which is like incredible.
Right. But you know, I think it’s also smart to write because you’re looking at, he’s talking to the people, because in Congress, he’s not going to get them to change their mind, especially as a Black man approaching this conversation, especially as an intelligent, academically smart Black man is going to approach a conversation with them to talk about freedom and rights, and especially to people who are privileged at that point to not even be concerned for other people’s rights, even their own White women rights. So making a massive amount of numbers where we get changed at that’s why you hear people say vote, that’s why you see us marching. That’s why you see the anger, Twitter blowing up and you see IG blowing up in the IG lives and people having conversations, because it’s gonna have to start from that ground swell up because as you can see, who’s really in office that’s protecting us at this moment. We can’t turn to anyone.
V Spehar 04:38
So very simple question. How do you define freedom right now?
You know, it’s to me it’s the power to speak and act in to do and to think without any oppression or hindrance, that or restraint to be told what to do. he’ll, you know, and literally being that wild child to be able to say and do what you want, in a very presentable way, I should say. But I think we don’t see enough of freedom. And we’re seeing the lack of the loss of freedom just been literally probably like a stripe at a time off the flag.
I know, it does feel like for some folks, the idea of freedom is controlling another person’s freedom. We talked about single issue voters and how a single issue voter does their life does not need to be improved by the legislation that’s passed, they just need to feel like no one else is getting close to the place that they believe that they hold and how dangerous that thought is.
It’s, it’s kind of crazy. And it I mean, I think if people really took a look and backed up, and especially about the voting aspects, there was so much, I was so angry, I don’t know if anybody else was I was so angry, and especially I’m going to talk about the food aspect, where they were creating laws to not be able to give water or food to people that had been standing in the line for 6 to 8 hours in the hot sun. And I have always believed that food has played a pivotal part, when you talk about our freedoms. And when you talk about our civil rights and sovereignty issues, and freedom brings, freedom, excuse me, food brings us together. And for that aspect to now say that I can’t give somebody water by why they are sitting there trying to exercise their right to vote to make a change in this world. It’s just astronomical to me, just water or food?
V Spehar 06:45
The simple things, these simple things that are both comfort items, there are survival items. And I know you’re a chef who was consulted on outside of just being a good neighbor and offering food, consulted on policy, taking your cause to the Hill work with the James Beard Foundation, world central kitchen, focusing on the roots of African American food and traditions. Can you talk a little bit about the history of Black American Southern cuisine and how that relates to building freedom?
I think it’s quite interesting to talk about Southern cuisine, I tend to refer to American cuisine, it’s been some of the base or the foundation of American cuisine. I you know, I first will tell you, like, you know, as slaves were not bought here for any reason but their talent right so we have the talent of farming, we have the talent of cooking, we have the talent of knowing our native lands, and especially being like that, quote unquote, guinea pig that will be brought in first to walk first before the White man or colonizing came in. And for, for me, Southern food played a huge part of that, because of the just the seeds that were brought across the food that was brought across. That was needed to make sure these people stayed alive, right, these enslaved people stayed alive, their diet was part of what came across that quad across that pond or that sea. And when landing, they needed to cultivate more. And so beyond that, you know, they were seen as savages or natives or indigenous, that they may be able to refer to the land or refer to the people that were on the land already, that they were able to figure out what needed to be done, what needed to be tilled, what that ground needed, what the food was able to grow, found similarities, but also planted that food. And so for me, when you look at it, present time, we still have that connection, right? It’s part of our DNA, but it’s also part of our food as part of that heritage and heirloom. So, when I see or we talk about Southern dishes, you can see some of the implementations that some Black hand touched that, some Black hand have was in the making of the creation of that and ingredient, or even that dish. So for me, it makes me very, very proud that you know, we are feeding our people, but it also has this deep rich history that I believe that you know, everyone should know.
Because what a lot of folks don’t maybe realize those southern dishes, the grains that came here, were literally brought on the ships with the enslaved to keep them alive as you’re saying this is something that they then had to try to recreate here. So the grains that you made like grits and things in the Charleston area, right, a lot of that food.
So, you’re talking about different colors. You’re talking about just different types of grain that you can see and a lot deeper south and south east and the Gullah Geechee area. You see that history and sometimes it can be traced to where it came from or where it landed. But that history is still there, and you’re starting to see people tell those stories.
V Spehar 10:09
After the break, we’ll talk a bit more about how society at large is attempting to honor the lived experiences of folks of color, especially now that Juneteenth is a national holiday. We’ll have more with Chef Adrian after this. We are back with chef activist and my dear friend, Adrienne Lipscombe, back in the spring of 2021, Congress passed a big Covid relief package, part of that package was $4 billion in loan forgiveness for Black and other minority farmers. Now, why did they do that? Well, because of a pretty clear history of decades long loan discrimination from the USDA, which made it much more likely that these particular farmers would face foreclosure. Now, we’re going to talk about all of that in a minute. But it is important to note that the share of Black farmers in the US has declined over the last century. And today, Black farmers make up less than 2% of all farmers in the country. Adrian, can you just talk a little bit about the urgency of protecting Black farmers?
There is an emergency, it just hands down. Yeah, there is an emergency not just to protecting Black farmers, but also protecting culture and protecting our looms and ingredients that most of these Black farmers have been farming for generations that they’ve created different breeds of or looms of different ingredients that we use on a daily basis. That can all get lost, you know, when you’re talking less than 2%, I believe it was last time I looked was like 1.3, something of that nature, percent, of farmers that are now declining, you’re looking at a majority of Black farmers over the age of 55, that don’t have technology that don’t have someone taking over for them when they retire to the point of when they get to that age. And when they’re seniors and they can’t farm anymore, what’s going to happen. So there is a serious urgency when it comes to what has happened to black farmers over the years, and the loss and lack of land that they have. A lot of black farmers are still what we would call sharecroppers which they don’t even own their land. And which sharecroppers do you mind if I get a little history? So, sharecropping, really came on the picture right after the Civil War. And, and when 40 acres was given by Abraham Lincoln was allotted to give Black, freed enslaved people land. And what happened was, is that the land was given to them. But some people don’t know by when 40 acres was occurring, that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. And his vice president was a southerner. And it was Johnson and Johnson retracted, that 40 acres. And when that happen, there was a lot of fight. So there just got over a significant amount of loss of population of deaths. And what was happening is that the blacks, and the blacks were fighting, they were fighting to keep the lands, and there was more deaths. And what had occurred to stop this fighting from happening, again, was the creation of sharecropping. And which that means that the freedmen were no longer the owners of the land, it was returned back to the original owner, which sometimes was their old master, they were allowed to stay on the land, farmed the land till it, create a business, but they needed to give a percentage of whatever they made to the land owner. So just imagine that, just imagine you were somebody tilling your land, and then you have people and then all of a sudden, they’re free, they’re given your land, but then they go, whoa, well, we’re giving you the land back. So you still own it. But now you’re gonna make a profit off of it. And you don’t have to do any of the work. You don’t even have to be there anymore.
V Spehar 14:30
Because those owners of that land certainly weren’t paying the sharecroppers the exchange was you have the pleasure of living here still, and you still have to give me something and I give you nothing.
But also on top of that is what you started seeing is how are they getting the products in the seeds, in the tilling equipment? They weren’t Black-owned, so they had to make deals with shops, and they had to pay even more plus interest. And so you started seeing this loop happening. So by the time they finished, and they thought they paid off, they’re like, well, you know, you may owe a little bit more because you needed this and you did this. And interest rate went up. So you owe more. So what was happening is it kept them on the land. And it kept them going over and over. So this was like this hamster wheel that was occurring, in which they were like, we’re still on this land, and I can raise a family, but we’re all going to work. And we’re working for the man, which that means we have to pay them back. But we also have to pay for our equipment. And if you switch it to current times, you still have a lot of sharecropping. And a lot of the owners of those properties are now banks.
Right? Banks are buying up farmland, billionaires are buying up farmland you’ve got, I think, what is it? Microsoft guy whose name escapes me right now, Bill Gates, he’s like one of the largest farm owners in the United States. He owns more acreage, a farm than I think anybody else.
Adrian Lipscombe 16:01
Yeah, it’s quite scary. It’s quite scary of what you think about that, and the importance of what land is, and what land means to people. And I always go back and you know, and refer to the questions that were asked with General Sherman when he was told or commanded to ask questions to the freed slaves. In a meeting, what do you want? And once stood up and said, We want land? And I always wonder, like, why do you want land and when you look at it, land provide you a home, it provides you an identity, it can create an economy, it can create a community, and but it’s also something you can pass down for generations to generations. So you create a legacy. And that’s what you start seeing. And if you hold on to that, and you do that, just imagine how long your line, your family line will go. And when you look in the future, and what was happening now and land being taken and brought over by other white farmers and what has been done through USDA, and I will say mainly on the local level. It’s kind of it’s scary is as astronomically scary about the amount of land that has been taken away from people of color and land.
Yeah, and let’s talk about that just a little bit. The USDA program, there was a program see, it’s like this no good deed goes unpunished thing that is constantly so frustrating to anyone psyche that’s trying to do good work, there was a USDA program that would essentially have forgiven some of the debt of Black farmers. And then White farmers sued, saying, well, that’s discrimination, not recognizing that White farmers had all of these sorts of opportunities for grants and for federal assistance and for money that had come into them. And in a disproportionate amount prior to someone saying, Hey, we should probably try to equal things out a little bit. So we’re gonna do this special program for black farmers, instead of respecting that this group of white farmers sued for discrimination because they weren’t cut in. Right. Can you talk me a little bit about what exactly that was?
Adrian Lipscombe 18:10
Yeah, a lot of you know, really funny. It was ironic because the farmers that sue were from Wisconsin, and that’s where I was at the time. And then when I moved the second set of farmers who sued were from Texas, and that’s where I went. It was really inescapable. But, you know, the interesting standpoint is like, the history of the racism and inequality, the land stills are all recorded. It’s not like it’s not in the paperwork. It doesn’t look like it’s not like it doesn’t exist, there is paperwork, there are court cases, but it is just to me shocking at the standpoint where they go, people of color are in need, they did not even get any of this money. Most of them didn’t even know about the farming relief that was happening beforehand. When that was noticed, and they did the black farmer relief. I think it was misconstrued and really marketed misconstrued of how they were getting money, right? So this wasn’t just like, we were handing money to Black farmers. This was giving a reprieve to their loans that were already existing. So if there was proven wrong, which they were records of, they were paying that off and saying, we’re taking that away. So it wasn’t like they were going out in handing farmers 1000s and millions of dollars. They were saying pretty much I’m sorry, we were in the wrong and we’re trying to do right and we’re gonna give this money to you. And so with that, other farmers were like, wait, you can’t just give money away. But in reality, there was a lot that was happening there. There was disparities, there was land grabs, there were a lot of things that were happening. We are pretty much saying we’re forgiving loans; we’re going back and just clearing that with the banks. And so that is what people missed out. But also something that was in there was a set of money that was looking at how to create sustainability in Black farmers. So we like, again, it was like we’re giving money. It was more like; how do we make sure you’re sustainable? How do we grow them? But also, how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again, and all of that got dissolved?
V Spehar 20:29
Just messed up totally. I know. And, I mean, this idea of like land is freedom, owning the means of production and food is freedom. We see that even in civil rights legislation, like the Fair Housing Act that happened. And I know you just mentioned that you had moved your business from Wisconsin to Texas, Texas has a huge history of Black history with the freedom colonies, just outside Austin, even and then we’re settled the towns that were settled by formerly enslaved people during the Reconstruction and Jim Crow era. Can you talk a little bit about what’s going on with the black experience in Texas right now?
So I’m in Austin. So I’m in Austin proper. And there’s a lot going on. You know, if we talk about agriculture, within the city limits of Austin, there’s only one black farmer, wow. My family is originally from the hill country, which sits in between two of the largest cities in Texas, which is Austin and San Antonio. And we’re probably seven generations deep here. And I can tell you, Austin is like 2%, black. You know, it’s the affordability of being able to live in a successful city and being a part of a successful city, which makes it very difficult, very hard here, because of just the casting system to be able to afford to live here to be able to eat here is quite difficult.
We’re gonna take a quick break, we’ll be right back with them chef Adrian Lipscombe next. Chef, another way that you’re making space for Black Farmers literally is through the 40 acres and a Mule project. Can you talk to me about how that got started?
Adrian Lipscombe 22:23
Sure. So this happened during the beginning of COVID, but also after the murder of George Floyd. And the town that I lived in was two hours away from where George Floyd was murdered. And we were getting a lot of that reverb of tension, of race and racism and police brutality that was occurring. And I started thinking about the farmers that are working with and their struggle, and realizes like if my farmers who are mainly in majority white, are struggling now, what’s happening to Black farmers, so I was already you know, hitting the history looking at it, to figuring out we were less than two present. I was probably one of the one of the first ones to kick off that, you know, hey guys, Black farmers are 2% What are we doing for them, especially during COVID. And I started the 40 acre project, and I said, we’re gonna buy Black land, we’re gonna buy land. And then within a year, with working with other partners, we were able to purchase land and start the Multnomah project. But 40 acres itself is looked to preserve the legacy of black farmers and Black foodways. And the point of figuring out and understanding our history and agriculture, but also preserving it and figuring out how can we work with other academics, other government to be able to preserve their knowledge of what they know, but also keep keeping our culture and those Harlem’s going. And then our food ways our food ways is kind of sprawled all over the place. And there’s really no sanctuary, I should say, for this information. And we’re hoping that the myeloma project, which is a nonprofit, will be able to hold in the house that information as we move forward. But my position is to be an advocate, is to be an advocate to push these conversations. And, you know, naturally, I was pushing conversations in my state now in pushing conversations nationally and internationally. Push this conversation about the diversity of agriculture, the diversity of food, in the government, in our everyday lives, but in also in hospitality.
V Spehar 24:39
Does the President have any power right now that he can help with?
This is interesting. So I’m going to say yes, there’s always a way to help out and I think it’s mainly finding the loophole, but also finding the champion that’s willing to sacrifice to be able to take the daggers in the back to be able to protect and help others. And I think that is what we’re looking for. And I know, you know, Cory Booker has stepped up, I know that a lot of people are changing, but it takes it takes change, right? It takes change on a national level it takes, especially for USDA, on a national level to really understand what’s happening on the local level. And there’s a lot of local levels to look at. And it’s like a, it’s like Christmas lights. I tell people, it’s like that box of Christmas lights, you opened up, and they’re all tangled, and you have to like untangle it. And you have to be very careful that you don’t pop one of the lights or doesn’t work. And I feel like that’s it right. It’s a long process working with the government is not an overnight process. Can things happen overnight? Sure. Is there power? Sure. Will they do it? I don’t think so.
What do you hope for moving forward?
I hope for a lot. I’m hoping for a pause, right? Because we all need to stop and breathe for a moment we’ve been through a lot. You’ve said this lot like breathe, pause, take a moment. There needs to be some type of reprieve if you’re thinking not just Black farmers, but a lot of small and medium sized farms that need help, and that need a moment to breathe. And then we need to reimagine, refocus on what we’re doing, how are we feeding people? How are we getting it to them? How’s it been distributed? How do we fix our food system, because our food chain has been broken for a very long time. And we’ve been covering up with band aids and COVID really show that to us. And when I’m talking through system, I’m not just talking just what we know. But I’m talking about the school system, the prison system, our houseless system of feeding people all needs to be reviewed, and reimagine how we take care of each other because I think out of all the issues that have been happening, we have taken the humanity out of it.
We did a study in Baltimore years and years ago, when I was still working in the food system with you more directly. And we’re able to prove a connection between food insecurity, and higher rates of crime. And when we had started delivering food, people were getting actual solid nutrition and not just like kicked, okay, here’s some very salty, sugary things we threw in a box for you, we hope you like them, the rate of domestic violence went down, the rate of crime went down, the ability for children to flourish went up. Because when you are meeting that core need of hunger, then people can start to work on other things that improve their life overall. What are some things that you see that are working? When food is being used as a form of achieving freedom?
My gosh, I see community right I see communities coming together and working with each other issues being solved pressure being taken off of people, because it’s mental, you know, you’re wondering where your next meal is, you’re wondering where your kids next meal is. You’re wondering how you’re going to pay rent and pee and feed people, how are you going to pay for gas, my God, the price of gas, and be able to make sure you have food on the table to feed your kids. And you know, and all this and we’re talking about feeding people, we need to also talk about food sovereignty, we need to talk about how we’re feeding people what we’re feeding people. Again, we’re not just feeding on the sugary crap, but we’re feeding and really understanding the culture, we’re really understanding their ethnicity, and what their needs are and what they can and cannot have. And to me, this is easy, even though it seems like it’s a lot of work. It takes a lot of work to live, it takes a lot of work to make it. And if we just take the time to really understand food sovereignty, we will solve food hunger, we will solve nutrition issues. This is just something that people need to take a step back and realize that we are all human. And we all have different needs. And you can’t put us in a box. And once we figure that out, our world will be a better place.
I agree. And that’s something that we can only hope the USDA and the federal government will be and as much as people want to be like I hate the federal government. I do too sometimes, but they are the biggest purchasers of food and we need them we do we can’t afford to give up on them. We need them to buy the food where we can improve sometimes. And you and I have talked about this on panels just constantly it seems like is that having a dietician or nutritionist is the head of the USDA making all of the decisions for what every kid every prisoner every unhoused person and every just person in between is going to be eating doesn’t often. Consider the idea that food is as much a care item as it is a survival items that we have to take a step back and say okay, but just because I send it does that mean that they’ll eat it just because they send it doesn’t mean that they’re going to feel respected by it or that it is good enough for them or that it works for their diet, and the special needs that they have.
Adrian Lipscombe 30:13
Giving food, it doesn’t quite work giving vegetables don’t quite work, if they don’t understand how to cook it. And they don’t understand how to process it. They don’t understand the purpose of what it’s used for, if it’s for them to make them healthy, or the understanding of they needed as part of their diet, because they have their dietician look through it. They don’t know it, because we are not educating them. Until this goes stems all the way back to our education, and our education of food and those health classes that everybody was hoping that that TV was going to be pulled in. So we can just watch a movie and not understand what food is. But there’s a larger picture. There’s that whole Mac class, you know that everybody’s like, Yes, this is the easy blow off class, we can take it because we know what food is because we eat it every day. But in reality, a lot of us do not know how to make simple things and simple foods.
Right. And it is such an important part like we’ve talked about many times, food literacy, basic cooking skills, that is a part of achieving a life of independence. And that is what we’re talking about today. What is freedom. And freedom is based in your ability to provide eat and consume foods that are going to allow you to live a life of independence in many ways. Any final thoughts for the audience before we head out?
Don’t stop fighting. I think that’s the biggest like, don’t give up. Don’t stop fighting. Please vote. Get your neighbor to vote, get your parents to vote for vote. Because the only way we’re going to change this world as if we work into it together.
And we’re talking about voting at the local level. Vote for school board vote for elder men, the mayor, the president, the Congress person, the lieutenant governor, everything down the line. Yes, because a lot of people are like left voted for the president and my didn’t get picked. So now I’m never gonna vote again. Try again. Please keep trying. Please keep trying. Adrian, it has been such a joy to chat with you here today. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me about food, about freedom about how we can better treat ourselves and our communities as Americans and also the importance of learning the history of this country and, and how food is always at the center of those celebrations. And just the ways that we achieve independence are through food. I appreciate you so much.
Adrian Lipscombe 32:29
Thank you, I appreciate you.
It’s always about the community rights and you always give me something to think about. So I’m gonna probably spend the rest of the day just I don’t know, you know what I’m gonna do. I’m going to watch high on the hog again, if you haven’t caught that on Netflix. It’s an incredible documentary series. It’s a four part series and some of Adrian’s work has been featured in there alongside other Black culinarians. So that is a great way to spend the rest of the day today. Be sure to tune into next Friday’s episode where we’re going to deep dive into another fascinating topic. You can of course, leave me a voicemail at 612-293-8550. Subscribe to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts and follow me for the nightly news at @underthedesknews on TikTok and Instagram. Have a great night and we will see you on Friday.
V INTERESTING is a Lemonada Media Original. Our producers are Rachel Neel, Xorje Olivares, Martín Macías, Jr. And Dani Matias. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova Kramer. Mixing and Scoring is by Brian Castillo, Johnny Evans and Ivan Kuraev. music is by Seth Applebaum. Please help others find the show by rating and reviewing wherever you listen and follow us across all social platforms at @VitusSpehar and @UnderTheDeskNews, also, @LemonadaMedia. If you want more be interesting, subscribe to Lemonada premium only on Apple podcasts.