Southern Foodways Alliance at the Georgia Organics Conference

Southern Foodways appears on Fridays as part of our collaboration with the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization based in Oxford, Mississippi, that "documents and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South." Dig in!

georgiaorganics.jpgGeorgia Organics is hosting its 11th annual conference, Quantum Leap: Taking Food & Farms the Future, February 28 to March 1 at the North West Georgia Trade and Convention Center in Dalton, Georgia.

Listen and learn as we imagine a future where farm, family, and community values merge with sustainable innovation—where thriving family farms connect with consumers at school, at work, at play. At this conference, you’ll gather the knowledge, tools, and connections needed to take your food and farms into that future. Learn about organic production, marketing, pastured livestock, local food systems, farm-to-school activities, and more from leaders in sustainable agriculture and foods.

The SFA is proud to be a part of this event. Our oral historian, Amy Evans, is presenting a workshop, "Preserving the Cultural Foodways of the South." In a global South, our food culture is changing. Regional variations are becoming diluted. Chain restaurants are taking traditional foods to new places. Mass, not local, tastes are being catered to. In an effort to both preserve and celebrate our region’s rich culinary legacy, the Southern Foodways Alliance documents Southerners who grow, create, serve, and consume food and drink.

Amy Evans will discuss every element of her work collecting the stories behind the food. She will give a presentation on conducting fieldwork, highlighting many oral history interviews from the SFA’s archive. Amy will also discuss the role documentary projects play in establishing and expanding culinary tourism initiatives. A screening of the SFA-produced short film Saving Seeds, a portrait of Bill Best, an heirloom bean and tomato farmer of Berea, Kentucky, will conclude her presentation.

billbest.jpgIf you don’t know about Mr. Best and his work, you should. A few years back, Bill realized the rich diversity of beans in the mountain South was being lost to the commercial production of homogeneous hybrid strains bred for hardiness, disease resistance, and other attributes, but never taste nor character. And so he sent out the word that he was interested in preserving the traditional bean stock of the Appalachia, promising that he would propagate the seeds through his agricultural institute. He also asked people to send him the stories that went with the beans, how they got their names, and whose family or community they came from.

Mr. Best has been saving beans and tales for years now, planting small crops to build up specific seed stock. Last I heard, he had over 100 varieties. What's more, Bill understands Appalachian culture in a profound and complex way, and he has devoted much of his life to teaching about it.

To learn more about Mr. Best and the hundreds of folks like him, people working in relative anonymity to ensure that Southern food and farming traditions are preserved and can continue to thrive, join us at the Georgia Organics Conference. If you can’t make the conference, we look forward to welcoming you as you poke around the SFA’s Oral History Archive. There, you’ll meet the people behind the food.

About the author: Melissa Booth Hall, a Southern Foodways Alliance staff member, grew up in Middlesboro, Kentucky, just a few hundred yards from the Cumberland Gap. Her culinary education began at age four, when she was allowed to stand on a chair in front of a gas stove and make fried pies. She has Centre College and Chase College of Law to thank for her everything-else education. A lawyer by training, she recently figured out a way to turn her passion for food into a paying job.

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