Monthly Archives: February 2015

African American Organic Farmers

In this 2010 piece African American Organic Farmers, Mark Winne, whose work examines food and social justice, writes from the dappled sunlight and live oaks of the Savannah’s Forsyth Farmers’ Market describing what appeared to him to be a renaissance of long-disenfranchised African-American farmers – there were “1 million African-American farmers in 1920, 29,000 in 2010” he writes, who have taken matters into their own hands. That culture, world-view, and experience nearly extinguished, is being fanned back to life by the ag. education and advocacy group and southern foodways non-profit, Southeastern African-American Farmers Organic Network, SAAFON, whose WordPress site, now five years on, linkless and neglected, may or may not be extant. What has become of these farmers? Are they using Georgia Cooperative Extension? Is main-stream ag education and a newly -inclusive organic farming community supporting them?

The Southeastern African-American Farmers Organic Network (SAAFON) is a network of farmers using sustainable growing methods. The Network is comprised of small and limited resource farmers that are either certified organic or growing organically.

In Clarke County, Virginia: We Make the Road, The Road Makes Us

Nelson's Road looking west to Blandy and White Post
Nelson’s Road looking west to Blandy and White Post

“The word ‘road’ in its old and roaming roots, originally meant ‘to travel by horse’ What a surprise…or is it? Not when you know what to look for. The Observer of Clarke County, March 2015.

It was travelers on horseback navigating the landscape with a unique, lifted, horse-top perspective – seeing further than a person can on foot- who, centuries ago, crossed fields, forded rivers, and clambered up the grassy flanks of the Blue Ridge seeking easy passage to gaps and notches making their way to lands west.

Horses and riders made the early roads and traces – about 100 by 1775 – that criss-cross what has become Clarke County. Those old roads, full of the stories that link People to Place, dwindling to bridle paths and odd berms in the woods, lost to most, have been kept from dissolving entirely by generations of horsebackers who, still roaming those woods and viewing the landscape from the saddle, may have saved old roads from vanishing entirely. Now, those roads and the stories they tell have been researched and mapped by historian equestrian, Matthew Mackay-Smith. Working with the Clarke County Historical Society, and Long Branch Plantation, his work, concentrating on King’s Road, Berry’s Ferry Road, and Commerce Road, is helping others learn how to see the roads that made us.

Nelson Road, White Post, Virginia
Nelson Road, White Post, Virginia

History Viewed from a Horse at Long Branch Plantation, White Post, Virginia


“Riding through History: Exploring Clarke County’s Colonial Roads”
On exhibit at Long Branch Plantation through spring then to the Clarke County Historical Society in Berryville, Virginia.

Arriving at last to Long Branch off-season in sun and bitter cold, it’s warm and quiet in the big house, like school out for the holidays tended by docents. They are art historians, very young in Shetland sweaters and Carhartt overalls, just in from tending the horses, tousled with manure and snow on their small boots

Following my GPS, I got lost on the way shooting off 340 later than advised. But stopping for historical markers I would have missed, I ended up trundling across train tracks, and Old Chapel Road, dropping down into Browntown sunken and cinder, its banks humped higher than the car following the remains of a stone wall, like a row of cairns now, flickering in the shaggy ceder treeline.

The Long Branch exhibit is called “Riding through History: Exploring Clarke’s Colonial Roads,” co-curated by historian and equestrian (considered the Father of Equine Sports Medicine) Matthew Mackay-Smith, the Clarke County Historical Association, and Long Branch Plantation.

A scholarly, accessible collection describing Clarke County’s old (‘archaic’ says the exhibit) roads – carved first by European men on horseback who flowed across the fields and rivers, and up the forested flanks of the Blue Ridge seeking easy passage to lands west. Apt, the exhibit at Long Branch, a house that remembers those roads – owes its existence to them, in a small, elegant room full of windows and light, facing the hills.

Matthew Mackay-Smith exhibit at Long Branch Plantation, White Post, Virginia 2014 Winter
Matthew Mackay-Smith exhibit at Long Branch Plantation, White Post, Virginia 2014 Winter

Its evocative writing (“at last scouts had found a gap in the seemingly impenetrable mountains…”) and multimedia: Snicker’s Gap Turnpike Lottery announcements, toll rates, (horse and rider 4 cents, a score of cattle or a phaeton, 12), and advice about ‘How to Spot an Old Road,’ made me gaze out the tall, old windows and their wobbly glass west to Blandy across the dazzling snow and empty fields.