Millie at Pride Road Farm. Photo courtesy of Pride Road LLC

Vittles: Sown with Soul is the tastiest write-off you’ll eat all year featuring Black growers across the U.S.

6 mins read

We worked with over 16 growers across the U.S., with 13 in a food-gift box that makes a perfect winter gift for the holiday season and even into Black history month. More than ever, tap into Black farmers.

When the box of coffee from Cantave de Saint Marc opened, I stood solid in my purpose. The aroma of the Haitian beans roasted in Brooklyn washed over me so intensely, it took me back to mornings at my grandmother’s table in Lafayette, Louisiana. She’d make a stove top pot of chicory coffee in one of her beloved percolators to go with breakfast. The smell was of home, and affirmed the work being done with businesses like Cantave de Saint Marc was ancestral and ordained.

Coming back to this early December day, my sister Kaia and I were unboxing food items from Black growers who harvested throughout the U.S. The coffee was one of over a dozen high quality selections we curated in Black Farmers Index’s annual holiday gift box called, Vittles: Sown With Soul. 

Vittles, launched in 2021, served as both a way to fund-raise for our organization, Black Farmers Index, and highlight the wonderful foods Black farmers produce. All the while, the holiday gift box aimed to dispel the myths of depravity saturating the narratives of underrepresented growers. Just because Black growers have been locked out of big agriculture does not equate to bad food. In fact, much of their produce is succulent. Through Vittles, we wanted to turn consumers’ attention toward the food.

This year’s theme is, “The tastiest write off you’ll eat this year” because it is so special. Much of the food is organically grown without chemicals and either small-batched or hand-harvested. Several farmers were harvesting and packing in November and early December. Another grower, Sam Cobb from California, shipped us dates fresh from processing just days before our first packing last week.

From the farmers in the box, we also received incredible depth around histories ignored. For example, the almond butter comes from Le Mule Ranch, a Yolo County, California family farm purchased by Stephen Gaskin who originally hails from Oakland. He is the only known Black-owned almond orchard harvesting and making their own almond butter from nuts that are not hybrid and have not been sprayed with any pesticides or chemicals in over 20 years.

Farmer Stephen comes from a lineage of Black agriculturalists who migrated to northern California in the 1800s and early-to-mid 1900s. Before slavery ended, Blacks were mandated to enter into the state in the north and had to show what Farmer Stephen said were “red papers” or their Emancipation documents. Like the South, they were racially segregated and forced to move to what local whites thought was the most barren land—in the hills and on sandy soil. To negatively mark the territory, local whites called the area “Nigger Heaven.” If you look on a map today, it still reads that derogatory name.

During this time, thousands of acres were owned by Blacks who, of course, thrived in the area now known as Yolo County. Eventually, some of the founding families left to form Allentown, the only all-Black town started in California post-Emancipation. The town thrived with the seasoned farmers, crafts-persons and entrepreneurs. Yet again, local whites did not like the competition, so they created financial issues, and even poisoned the drinking water.

These examples are critical in understanding that when you eat the lovely offerings, you are biting into rich culinary histories and growers who come with fascinating family stories and traditions. Our goal is to tap into some of it.

Farmer Stephen Gaskin with his grandchild on Le Mule Ranch in Yolo County, Calif. Photo courtesy: Le Mule Ranch

Curating a food revolution

To facilitate a holiday box representing growers from at least five of the regions on The Index is no small feat. Since the end of last year’s Vittles inaugural launch, we’ve been planning the food box. Even with a year of identifying growers then brokering deals, we worked down to the last hour to ensure that the first order of boxes made it before the Christmas holiday. What we now understand is that grace is one of the first integral parts of developing business relationships with those who have been the most maligned in agriculture.

One of our biggest takeaways is that Black farmers need processing facilities and specialized markets. For instance, our first sugar supplier, Eddie Lewis Cane Farms, must send his harvests to a local, white-owned processing plant. When we called to order from the plant, the receptionist said that there was no Eddie Lewis Cane

Farms they did business with. Ironically, Farmer Eddie and his family are known producers of the sweetest sugar cane in the region. Thus, this interaction began a host of problems similar to the show, Queen Sugar.

Sadly, Farmer Eddie’s grandfather, “Boss Man,” unexpectedly passed away in November, which is one of the reasons we couldn’t ultimately resolve the issue at the plant. Boss Man was the patriarch and master farmer of the family. Farmer Eddie told us that the same plant that “forget” his cane, also stole millions of dollars in inventory from his grandfather over the years. Luckily, R&R Farms of Simpson, Mississippi was able to supply us with the last cases of this year’s harvest.

To maintain our diaspora ties, we invited Cantave de Saint Marc to share their family farm’s Haitian coffee, which is tied to the Haitian Revolution. Then to dig deep into our roots, we found a pancake flour company started by five Kansas wheat farmers. 

In all of this work, our thought is that if Black farmers are simply paid well and fairly, for what they grow, this will assist in the economic disparities we see in agriculture, and issues linked to it.

To purchase a Vittles box has many benefits. One of them is that you’ll be tasting good food. Another is that you’re investing in the changing food landscape that is happening, but many are left unaware. Small-to-medium sized farms will be needed now more than ever. During the global shut-down, the empty shelves were a sign of what is to come. Now, in a post-pandemic world, knowing your food and its sources is as necessary as ever. If you cannot locate where or who your food comes from, start with the Vittles: Sown With Soul gift box.

Haitian coffee farmers who work with Cantave de Saint Marc coffee. Photo courtesy of Cantave de Saint Marc

Meet the Growers in the Vittles: Sown With Soul winter holiday box

  • *Pancake Mix (Nicodemus Flour Co.) – Flour from Kansas farmers that is cultivated in small batches. The pancake mix only requires flour and will produce a fluffy pancake. 2 lbs
  • Honey (Detroit Hives) – Small-batch harvested honey on an urban apiary. 2.5 oz
  • Almond Butter (Le Mule Ranch) – Almond butter from 60-plus year old almond trees that are non-hybrid nuts and have been tended without pesticides or toxic chemical sprays. 14 oz
  • Herbs & Edible Flowers (Dr. Nettles Natural Beauty) – Five herbs and edible flowers (rose petals, lavender, hibiscus, mint and rosemary) hand-harvested in small batches in November 2022 on a farm that practices organic methods. 1.5 oz each
  • *Oyster Mushrooms (SomeDay Farms and Bread and Butter Farms) – Hand-harvested, small batch gourmet mushrooms dried slowly for 48 hours to maintain taste. Grown and harvested in October and November 2022. 1/4 lb
  • *King and Shiitake Mushrooms (Bread and Butter Farms)-  Hand-harvested, small batch gourmet mushrooms dried slowly to maintain taste. Grown, harvested and dried in November and December 2022. 1/4 lb
  • Hibiscus Peach Chutney (Pride Road) – An award-winning “Flavor of Georgia” for best condiments and salsa for their Georgia-grown hibiscus and peaches, small-batch harvested and prepared in a state-of-the-art facility with the highest quality of spices and zest flavors. 10 oz
  • Sugar Cane Syrup (R&R Farms) – Cane carefully cultivated in one of the oldest sugar-cane producing regions in the country. 1/2 lbCatch this Holiday Sale before it goes! Vittles: Sown With Soul is Black Farmers Index’s signature fundraiser in the form of an annual holiday gift box. 
  • Pecans (Samora Farm & Vineyard) – Hand-harvested in October and November 2022, these small-batch pecans come from a farm owned and operated for three generations by the same family. The harvesting is a non-invasive, machine-free gathering process and dried in a barn to maintain the buttery richness and moisture. The shell is left on to preserve the taste. 1/2 lb
  • Cacao Discs (Davis & Daughter Farms) –  Harvested from a small family farm in Belize then shipped and processed in Georgia in small batches and by hand. 2 oz
  • Coffee (Cantave Saint Marc) – Beans are organically shade-grown in Haiti on a family farm. Beans are co-planted with banana, plantain, avocado, almond and citrus trees to amplify nutrients and taste. This family operation grows several local varieties of beans, hand-picks them and ships them to Brooklyn for a fresh roast. 4.5 oz
  • Dates (Sam Cobb Farms) – Dates from an orchard that took 21 years to grow into full bloom from saplings taken from grandfather trees. Grown on chemical-and-pesticide free soil with the utmost care, the dates are carefully harvested and are juicy, plump and subtly sweet fruit that is expertly dried. 10 oz
  • Fruit (Bask Farm) – Locally harvested fruit that is slowly hydrated to produce the sweetest dried fruit for cooking and garnish. 10 pieces
  • Praline holiday candy featuring New England Sweetwater Farm and Distillery – Winchester, NH
  • Recipes by Chef Cassandra offers 10 recipes on ways to  use the sumptuous items in the box. Chef Cassandra is an  anthropologist, world-traveling chef and farmer who digs into her  expansive archives for fun and tasty recipes.

*Limited supply

This is a sponsored post by Black Farmers Index

Amara Brown focuses on health, agriculture and mommy news. She is the communication strategist for Black Farmers Index

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