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Sustainable Foods Throughout History: Keesa V. Johnson and T.C. Collins

Kessa V. Johnson and T.C. Collins continue the discussion on food sustainability.
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Hey everyone. How are you guys doing? My name again is Keesa V. Johnson. I’m a 21st century designer that works within the food system. Today we are here with Mr. TC Collins. We’re here to learn more about when it comes to sustainability. It’s sustainable for whom or for what? It’s the question that we ask a lot of times when we talk about sustainability. But here today when we’re talking about the Underground Railroad, we’re talking about the historical elements when it comes to sustainability, telling the truth of the real part of the full system. I’m quite excited to be here with TC to learn more about Underground Railroad. Thank you.
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I’m TC Collins from Willow Run Acres and also Willow and Ypsi Forays club. We created the Underground Railroad garden to give an enlightenment for the education component, for teaching about the plants, the fruit and the vegetables of the journey from the south to the north, from the north to Canada, and also from Canada there were also free slaves that even went to Europe to learn a French cuisine. Most of the Underground Railroad has elements from that. We also have signage that teaches about the Underground Railroad, the drinking gourd and also different accomplishments with a lot of different pioneers from the Underground Railroad, such as macaroni and cheese or the ice cream scoop, the light bulb and things of that nature.
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TC, why do you think is so important to really talk about who are the creators and the originators of all these different inventions when it comes to agriculture? Well, it’s very important to enlighten the community about the accomplishments because it’s not being taught in schools. The more we go forward in the future about sustainable items that we have obtained, the more you’re going to forget or not even know about the past. It’s very important that we bring the past forward and go forward with that. Why is sustainability important when it comes to understanding about the Underground Railroad? Well, most importantly is that a lot of slaves did not know how to tell time.
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A lot of slaves did not know how to read. A lot of them knew historically and culturally how to grow different plants, how to grow different produce. A lot of them carried seeds woven in their clothes, woven in their hair or in their braids or sometimes they would carry seeds in their bottom gums and they would hold those seeds and plant them wherever they went. That way they would grow the plants that they grew off of their land. That’s how a lot of berries got brought from over Africa. A lot of okra, lot of color greens, mustard green seeds were saved in their hair or in their seams of their clothing.
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Then they were brought over here and they cultivated the land that way. It’s very sustainable that we keep doing that because if we lose a lot of heirloom seeds or heirloom plants, we’re losing our history. Harriet, tell me, was a very strong prefigure when it comes to understanding about the Underground Railroad. There was other people, as well. Can you tell us a little bit about how you talk about Harriet Tubman and her role within Underground Railroad? Harriet Tubman was a very educated woman at that time. She was a very important figure for all of us to understand and to know. One of the plants that she maintained and grew was the Black-eyed Susan.
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She took that plant with her journey and she planted that in different key locations on a river banks and different valleys and different groves and those plants itself, the Black-eyed Susan, was one of the key elements of telling the slaves where the path was to freedom and how to learn that. Reason for it is that there are different color plants that were yellow but specifically the Black-eyed Susan stood out the most because that’s the one of the plants that were at least 3-4 feet tall. What was Quoting’s importance when it comes to the Underground Railroad? Well, the Quoting code was very important.
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A lot of people who still believe that it doesn’t exist or did not exist or it was fake. But it was a true thing because in our family line, we still have quite a few quoted coats and quoted blankets that has the codes on there. Different farmers would have that quote hanging on their banister or on a horse trough. They would see that code and it will let them know where the path was, such as if there was a blacksmith in an area or if there was food in the area, certain codes have a different message.
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When they saw that quote they knew exactly where to get clothing from or if there was a blacksmith in the area that they can get horseshoes made for their horses that they used to hide in their wagons. Quoting code was a very important piece of the Underground Railroad. I just love all of this because I would’ve never thought in a million years how I would study agriculture and embedded codes from my people would be embedded all throughout the United States. One thing that I really wanted to talk a bit about was that, I feel like this seems like it’s a real healing ground, a healing space.
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Could you tell us a little bit more about the medicinal aspects of a lot of the plants that were used? Here at Willow Run Acres we have a lot of different plants and a lot of different herbs here. We have over 300 different types of plants and herbs here. It’s very important that we hold onto those and teach the younger generation about this because we have over 10 different varieties of mint here, from apple to strawberry, to lime to lemon mint. We also have different types of onions growing here. We also have the famous Egyptian walking onion, which is an heirloom.
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We have to keep maintaining and hold onto the history of heirloom varieties because the more we go forward with that and we buy from the big box stores we’re going to lose out on agriculture. Holding on to heirlooms and teaching the younger generation what is an heirloom versus a genetic modified food, it blows their mind. A lot of kids need to learn about heirlooms. What I really would love to know a little bit more about is, how do you see the future of the Underground Railroad? Where’s it going? Well, most importantly that we are expanding in other communities. We are going to be expanding in Kalamazoo. We’re going back home to Willow Run.
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We’re going forward in the future because we got the garden that’s over here to the right. It’s a 1600 century garden where the colonials used to garden and their technique used to farm. We have the Watch Me Grow a garden in the back us, the Watch Me Grow sensory garden. We also have the Underground Railroad garden here. In the future we are going to be having an autonomous gardening where we can teach about robotic gardening to help people with disabilities, people that are blind or wheelchair bound. They’ll be able to use a robot to help teach gardening. To a great question, what would you like the world to know, especially specifically are you a [inaudible] community?
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What would you like them to know? How can they help to come and support what you’re doing? The most important thing is this, come out and volunteer. We’re right here in Ann Arbor, where here in Ypsilanti, we’re down the street from the big house. If you can come on out to Willow Run Acres out here off of South Wagner road, we have plenty of dirt. We have plenty of water to wash your hands. Come on out and get your hands dirty and wash your hands and have fun good time.

How much do you know about the history of the food that you eat? In this segment Kessa V. Johnson and T.C. Collins discuss the history of sustainable foods and the future of Willow Run Acres.

T.C. Collins is the Founder of Willow Run Acres. T.C. Collins bio here.

Discussion: What foods are important to your history and/or culture? Please describe them. Are they sustainable?

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