28 Days of Soul Food: Day 8

I discover the legacy of my mother's family farms in Mississippi and how they once prospered and nourished her entire family.

I was conducting research for an article on a Black-owned farm that’s been around for more than 130 years, and I asked myself: I wonder how long my mom’s family farms in Mississippi have been in her family?

I called her and we had a rather lengthy chat, with her telling me information that was new to me. I actually should not have been surprised because she always had a green thumb.

During my childhood, she seemed to grow with ease collard greens, strawberries, tomatoes, apples and more in the backyard of our Chicago home. These were items she almost never purchased at the grocery store. She had also always knew how to expertly can figs, cucumbers, peaches, and other tasty produce for us to enjoy during winter months. She told me that she even won a prize for her canned peaches during her youth.

My mother’s family owns two farms. One was purchased by her parents in the mid-1930s in Prentiss, Mississippi. The second was bought by her father’s sister sometime in the 1920s. It’s near Biloxi, Mississippi.

The former was bequeathed to her brothers and sisters after her parents had passed away. Up until she was 17, when she left Mississippi to pursue higher education and a professional career, my mother helped farm 42 acres of land with her family. And, according to her, that’s how they survived, off the food they grew on the land.

It was indeed plentiful and I wish I could have visited the farm during its height. They grew cotton, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, blueberries, cabbage, peaches, figs, collard greens, turnip greens, black-eyed peas, butter beans, green beans, and sugar cane on this land. In lieu of an allowance, my mother and her sister made money by selling cucumbers, greens and berries to wholesalers.

The family also raised cows, milked them, and consumed their milk. They also raised pigs, chickens, ducks, and horses, which she often rode. As the youngest of six children, my mother was the only one left still working the farm, so when she left home at 17, no one ever picked up where she left off. It’s the story of many American families — particularly Black families — who have vast amounts of land that just sit there. My mother’s family farm has been sitting barren for more than 60 years. Every several years she will sell timber from it.

The Biloxi property was never farmed because oil was discovered on it. Her aunt left the farm to my mother and her sister. The profits from it are still rolling in for them.

[Audarshia visiting Five Star Land & Livestock in Sacramento, California, in 2014. Photo by Matthew Lowell]