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This week, The Zest Podcast brings you something a little different. Collards After Dark is an intimate evening of food and conversation that precedes the annual Tampa Bay Collard Green Festival.
At this year’s event, Zest Dalia Colón moderated a discussion on the healing power of African-American culinary traditions between cultural curator Gabrielle EW Carter and LaDonna Butler, a mental health counselor with a doctorate in counselor training and supervision. They also discussed saving seeds as a form of resistance, the potlikker drinking ritual and much more.
The event was recorded on the evening of February 18 in the garden of the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum in St. Petersburg, before a varied audience.
Carter is the co-founder of Tall Grass Food Box, a community-supported farming model that sources food from black farmers in her home state of North Carolina. She also hosts community meals at her family’s homestead in Apex, North Carolina, as featured in the Netflix docuseries High on the Hog: How African-American Cuisine Transformed America.
Butler is founder and executive director of The Well for Life, a St. Petersburg space dedicated to mental well-being and self-care. She is also a licensed mental health therapist and counsellor.
The evening began with a screening of The seeds we keep, Carter’s short film on seed saving and African American land ownership.
“To me, preservation comes in different ways, but seed saving is at the heart of it all, because without seeds, we don’t have much,” Carter said. She noted that although her family was not financially well off, the seeds allowed them to enjoy a rich life for generations. “There are all types of wealth,” she added.
Preserving seeds and food traditions is also important for the mental health of the black community, Butler said.
“When we think about times of joy and times of sadness, especially in the African tradition, all of these things surround the ritual of food,” Butler said. “As we tell the story of who we are as a people, it’s important that we keep those seeds – that we set them on fertile ground.”
For Carter, seed saving — both literally and figuratively — involves spending a lot of time with his elders.
“I learned my story and got so much information about my identity from sitting in the kitchens and being with my great uncle Andrew on the porch, shelling peas, shucking corn. In the garden is where I learned my story,” Carter said. “And so it all feels like a way to grab some joy.”