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Farm Report: Justevia & Gimbia’s Kitchen

It’s high summer in Velma, Mississippi, when everything around here verges on tropical. The farm at Halima Salazar’s place in Yalobusha County is teeming with white velvet okra and hibiscus, with purple hull peas and honey beans native to her home country of Nigeria, with turmeric and ginger and an abundance of mint. There’s even an experimental patch of indigo.

Much of what Halima and her farming partner Dria Price grow for their tea line Justevia, their Gimbia’s Kitchen pop-up dinners, and the heirloom seed company Truelove mirrors farms and gardens throughout West Africa. It tells the story of Halima’s migration across the ocean to attend college in Texas. It feels at once deeply familiar and newly strange, like you’ve been transported deeper into the essence of North Mississippi, this place you never stop discovering. For Halima this balancing of cultures feels like home.

 

Dria Price and Halima Salazar

“I grew up seeing women from different tribes use the same ingredients to cook food and make it look and taste different,” she tells me. “Since coming to the U.S., both before and after college, I’ve kept thinking about the similarities between our food and Southern food.”

Inside the sky blue cabin where Halima lives with her husband and two children, the walls made of hand-hewn pine are decorated with masks and fabrics made by Nigerian tribes. Like the food she cooks, her upbringing is a melting pot of different tribes: Yoruba and Hausa-Fulani. The kitchen is immaculate with butcher-block counters, a giant farm sink, and a crown jewel of an Italian range.

Halima hands me a plate steaming with a West African porridge recipe she’s testing for a welcome reception for new students and staff at the University of Mississippi’s Southern Foodways Alliance. The first bite is warm and inviting, an initial kick from cayenne and scotch bonnet peppers grounded by the earthy softness of sweet potato and beef.

“It needs to be a little less spicy before we can serve it,” Halima says with a furtive smile. Nigerians are used to a little heat, she explains, so she has to tone down the recipes for American eaters.

White Velvet Okra

Halima and Dria’s patchwork farm is pieced together between yards and empty lots from Velma to Oxford. The beds are small and full, more on the scale of home gardens. Together they make a farm. There’s plenty to eat, but most of the off-beat varietals, from the honey beans to the white velvet okra to a Nigerian amaranth green called Efo Aleho and indigo, are being grown for Truelove Seeds, a Pennsylvania-based heirloom farm collaborative dedicated to preserving culturally important heirloom vegetables, herbs, and flowers.

For Dria the seeds are just as powerful as the food that contains them.

“I think about that when I harvest a basket full of peppers from a single pepper plant that I grew from one single pepper seed,” she says. “And the fact that each pepper that I harvested has enough seeds to grow hundreds more peppers in the future. I love the fact that I can put a few little seeds in the ground and grow enough to feed my household and share with people around me.”

This was a gospel that Dria learned at the Oxford Community Market (OXCM) from Leonard Brown, a beloved farmer who grows herbs, tends goats, and partners in a mushroom cultivation project with Alcorn State University on his land around Velma. An Oxford High School alum with a bachelors degree and a graduate degree in Dietetics from the University of Mississippi, Dria spent her early life in Chicago and was trying to rediscover her family’s roots as farmers and subsistence landowners.

“Living off the land is how many black people were able to survive when we didn’t have rights to enter certain places or money to afford the basics,” Dria says, explaining how empowering one’s community through food is a Mississippi tradition. “The reliance on convenience and lack of knowledge regarding how to grow/make our essential food items could mitigate the descent into food insecurity, which has long lasting effects on both our bodies and mental health. This is something that activists such as Fannie Lou Hamer have been talking about for decades.”

Brown offered her a way to reconnect with those ancestral food ways. “I remember Mr. Brown saying that God gave us plants that grow better after being clipped as His way of making sure that we always have food.”

Truelove Seeds

This was 2019. Halima, who had just moved to the Batesville area with her family, met Brown around the same time to buy some of his goats. The two began volunteering for him, trying their hands at farming, and soon Halima and her family moved deeper into their Mississippi journey, south of Water Valley to Velma.

“Over the last three years, we haven’t stopped going, and we’ve started so many new ventures since then,” Dria says.

Inspired by Brown, they began growing and drying their own herbs and started the herbal tea company Justevia, named after the natural sweetener found in each blend. The teas, little harmonies of comforting herbs such as hibiscus, mint, tulsi basil and lavender, are popular at OXCM, the Tuesday farmer’s market at the Old Armory Pavilion. You can also find them on the shelves at Chicory Market and in our Iced Hibiscus Tea on the counter.

As farmers in the OXCM community, Halima and Dria have found other ways to contribute their talents. Halima, who went to culinary school back in Nigeria, began to present Nigerian food popups at the market under her brand Gimbia’s Kitchen – “gimbia” the word for “princess” in the Hausa language in remembrance of her grandmother. “My passion is to show people that African food is diverse and incredible and is not just Jollof,” she says.

She met Corbin Evans of Oxford Canteen, and presented several dinners there and at Chicory Market. Dria, a talented baker, met Vishwesh Bhatt of Snackbar and moonlighted as a guest chef on their dessert menu.

The growth in their farm business has been community-based – organic in the most literal sense and by necessity. And their hard work is starting to pay off. In June they were one of 10 farms across the country to be awarded Braiding Seeds Fellowships by Soul Fire Farm, a community farming foundation with a mission to lift up African-American and indigenous farmers and their work in creating food sovereignty. During the 18-month program, Halima and Dria will receive grant support and professional development to learn and grow as farmers.

Honey Beans

“Something that makes this journey easier is forming a community with other farmers, including those who do not come from farming backgrounds, women, younger people, and especially black farmers,” Dria says. “The Braiding Seeds Fellowship has helped us find more people like us who are passionate about the Earth, farming, and do not look like the typical farmer in our area.”

For Halima, farming in a place like Mississippi, where eating well is such a public health issue, is also an outward facing mission. “To be an example to the next generation of people of color, so they know that fresh food is not about gentrification and that we all should have equal access to it. If kids don’t see people who look like themselves growing food, they won’t know they can also take ownership of what goes onto their plate.”

On October 2 and 3, the Gimbia’s team will be back at Snackbar to present an Anatomy Dinner with the Philadelphia-based physician and adventure writer Jonathan Reisman. After hearing Reisman talk about his book, The Unseen Body, on NPR’s Fresh Air, they messaged him and invited him to partner with them. This unique six-course dinner, inspired by Reisman’s “Anatomy Eats” series, features dishes prepared from liver, kidney, marrow, and other organ meat to explore new recipes inspired by old food ways and to make delicious use of whole animals.

All of these opportunities have Dria and Halima dreaming big. To make their farming operation whole, they’re looking for a contiguous stretch of land to purchase in Lafayette County. Meanwhile, they are building a second greenhouse funded by a Natural Resources Development Council grant from the USDA.

As much as Justevia and Gimbia’s Kitchen grow, for Dria it all goes back to that single seed.

“What I love is how a simple seed can create such an abundance that you can form a community based on generosity.”

~ John Martin

Tailgate Grub in the Grab-n-Go!

We have everything you need for the Grove or your next watch party! For each Ole Miss home game the Chicory Kitchen turns out a full array of party platters, sandwich trays, meals, sides, and other tailgate grub to make everyone in your party happy. See below for examples.

**PLEASE NOTE: All prepared foot items are now available first-come-first-served. NO PRE-ORDERS, NO HOLDS. The kitchen will be making plenty of tailgate grub to last through game day of each football weekend. Come early, and get your Grove on!  Hotty Toddy!!!

  • Home Place Pastured BBQ Sliders
  • House Gumbo & Jambalaya
  • Sausage & Cheese Platter
  • Muffuletta Tray
  • Veggie Sandwich Tray
  • Hot Ham Rolls
  • Fruit & Crudité
  • Mississippi Charcuterie
  • Creole Shrimp Salad
  • Better Cheddar

Farm Report: Clear Creek Strawberry Fields Forever

Strawberry season in North Mississippi is short and sometimes hot, but oh so sweet. And this spring Clear Creek Produce set a new record for strawberries.

Matt Britt, the farmer who owns and operates Clear Creek, put 28,000 strawberry plants into the ground back in the fall. That’s almost double the 15,000 he and his crew raised last year. For all the extra work, Matt says, the increase in production has helped him grow his business, especially while wrestling with the rainy spring weather.

“They’ve helped keep our workers busy and given us more to sell while we’re waiting for the soil to dry to break ground for the summer crops,” he said

All those extra berries have required additional hands. The Clear Creek crew has grown from three last year to seven regular pickers and a few freelancers this spring. 

The extra production has also helped push the farm to sell more at farmers markets and find new markets for its produce. Local artist and farmer Carl Blackledge, who helps run Clear Creek’s sales every summer, estimates he’s already sold more than 5,000 pounds of strawberries at the Hernando Farmers Market. That’s 700 pounds a week! And that’s in addition to what they sell at their regular sites. 

Besides Chicory Market, you can find Clear Creek berries at the Oxford Community Market and the Midtown Farmers Market. You can find them in the cakes at Sugar Magnolia in New Albany. You can find them at Piggly Wiggly in Bruce and BTC Grocery in Water Valley.

Carl has also sent strawberries to New South Produce, a regional distribution network based out of Memphis. 

“There’s no telling where you can probably find our berries now!’ Matt said.

Matt predicts the berries to keep coming until the end of May. Beyond that, expect to find onions, cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower starting in early June. And the rest of the summer and fall will bring the usual Clear Creek bounty of homegrown tomatoes of all stripes, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, okra, and watermelons. 

It’s easy to eat local this time of year, thanks to Clear Creek Produce!

Brand New: FLY BY JING

John here! Back in our rambling days in New York City, Kate and I lived around the corner from Vanessa’s Dumpling House in Chinatown. And I mean we LIVED on those dumplings, at least once, often twice a week. Fast, cheap, authentic, and delicious — they checked all the boxes.

Now, thanks to one of our favorite brands, Fly By Jing, we can all live on dumplings any night of the week. You may know Fly By Jing from their irresistible Sichuan Chili Crisp that we carry in the market. Their pork dumplings, just released to us this month, are the perfect vehicle for chili crisp or any of your favorite Asian sauces.

Available in three varieties — Pork, Shrimp & Mushroom; Pork, Shrimp & Scallop; and Pork Soup Dumplings — these plump morsels are bursting with flavor, like they just came off the dim sum cart. All you need is a pot of water and a steamer basket, and 10 minutes later you have perfect dumplings for 3-4 people! (And if you want to go vegetarian or gluten-free, try the seared Vegetable Potstickers from Feel Good Foods. Make sure to pair with Native Son Farms bok choy!)

Fly By Jing has a great story too. Founded by Sichuan native Jing Gao, the company seeks to promote and build on the bold flavors from her hometown of Chengdu. While working in Europe, she missed that food so much she quit her corporate day job and moved back home to open a restaurant. Her recipes became so wildly popular, she launched the Fly By Jing line of sauces, spices, and dumplings. You can read more about Jing in this Forbes profile.

There are a lot of things we don’t miss about our former city life, but we often long for those dumplings. Now we don’t have to. And neither do you!

Brand New: Spicewalla to the Rescue!

Does that new Indian cookbook you got for Christmas call for something called ajwain seed? Need a go-to rub for that Home Place Pastures pork shoulder? Spicewalla to the rescue!

Our chef friend Vishwesh Bhat at Snackbar nudged us toward Spicewalla last year, and we’re so glad he did. A world-class spice company based not too far away in Asheville, N.C., Spicewalla sources small-batch spices from quality suppliers and roasts them in its Asheville factory. All of their seasoning blends and single-origin spices were lovingly sourced and tested by owner and five-time James Beard-nominated chef Meherwan Irani. So you’re in good company.

For the grill, we love their Buxton Hall Rib Rub and Piri Piri. For tea time, their Golden Milk will keep you warm. And there’s fenugreek, Gochugaru chili flakes, and of course the ajwain powder to take your Asian culinary goals to the next level.

Spicewalla is a great accompaniment to our house selection of hand-packed spices and seasonings that we source fresh every week at Chicory Market!

Eat Local All Year: 12 months with Native Son Farm

In North Mississippi, we’re fortunate to enjoy local produce 12 months out of the year, which makes it easier to take care of ourselves and eat well doing it. Right now, in the depths of winter, you can find farm-fresh spinach, collards, sweet potatoes, kale, lettuces, carrots, turnips, radishes, and mushrooms — all at the market!

This doesn’t happen by magic. The rainy North Mississippi climate can make life difficult for farmers. But hard-working, year-round operations like Native Son Farm in Tupelo and Rose Creek Farms in Selmer, Tenn., are proving that with the right infrastructure, the Mid-South can be a bread basket for all of us who live here. And they’re pointing the way to making agriculture more sustainable on a national and global scale.

We sat down with Will Reed of Native Son to discuss the promises and challenges of growing local produce year round. See the interview below. 

 

Twelve years ago, Will and Amanda Reed started Native Son Farm in Tupelo with a garden plot and a Rototiller. In that time, their farm has grown to 20 acres and 15 staff members in the high season. A series of hoop houses allows them to extend their tomato production in the summer and keep growing greens in the middle of winter. Their year-round farm stand, offers their produce along with cheese, meat, eggs, and other goods from other local food makers. This year, Native Son is expanding its production to CBD products grown and made on site. And they just broke ground on a kitchen for short-order and prepared foods designed to use more produce that would otherwise go to waste.

Chicory: What work is involved in increasing your production, especially in the winter months?

Will Reed: It can be kind of challenging to keep up a high level of production 12 months out of year without burning out. There is something to the seasonality of work because it can be intense throughout parts of the year. There are also logistical challenges to get it out of fields and get it clean. And more significant labor in the winter months because typically the fields are extremely muddy.

Another thing that plays into it is the day length. Getting produce to grow in winter doesn’t have as much to do with when it’s cold; it’s just the days are so short. We try to time some things like spinach or lettuce where they reach close to maturity, and then they can kind of hang out with the rest of the weather. If it’s hot and sunny that stuff is going to bolt prematurely. So getting the timing right is tricky.

 

Chicory: What has Native Son done to adapt to the local climate?

Will: We have a tough climate for a lot of the stuff we’re raising. If you think about where a lot of produce is grown, it’s in irrigated deserts. Being able to control water makes a lot of things easier and more consistent. We’ve been seeing about 80 inches of rainfall a year, and we’ve gone to great lengths to adapt to the changing climate. Part of that is putting up high tunnels that let us create kind of an irrigated desert condition. Part is building up soil quality to make it where crops don’t drown.

That, coupled with the desire to be able to pay people year round, has led us to push our season extension capabilities here at Native Son. There are some things that are pretty reliable for us to grow throughout the winter months — spinach, kale, collards, Brussels sprouts, arugula, some lettuces. And then we couple that with things that will store well. And that’s mostly root crops, carrots, beets, turnips, hard radishes, sweet potatoes.

I think it is possible to have a decent amount of diversity throughout year, but some of it comes down to like okay so last winter we had snowstorm that had 10-14 days and that crushes a lot of stuff. If we get a ton of rain and cold, it’ll rot a lot of stuff in field. Or a big swing — we just had 80 to 20 degrees in less than a week and that can be hard on some items.

 

Chicory: And to make it even trickier, you’re a Certified Naturally Grown farm using organic practices.

Will: We’ve always done all organic farming practices. That can add some challenges, the fact that we’re organic so not using the fungicides that may help some stuff hold up more in the rain. We’re a first generation farm here. I came from a very privileged background and had help getting bank loans and getting rolling, but we started with zero infrastructure and the majority of the land we’re on is really marginal for vegetable farming. It’s more like the land that was in proximity and that was affordable was really in the floodplain, it doesn’t have development potential. A lot of the soil we’re on is what we refer to colloquially as gumbo. Farmers say it sticks to you in the winter, and it sticks with you in the summer. Getting stuff in the winter out of the gumbo, we’ve had many boots and shoes eat by the farm out there.

 

Chicory: What’s next for Native Son?

We’re building out a kitchen and looking to have a full-time kitchen staff and try to work on the value-added side of a lot of these local foods. Having kitchen is going to allow us to take the stuff that we don’t sell in 3 days and turn it into something good.

When I’m thinking about a word that we want to define this year, it’s making more smiles. Creating more community and space for humans to smile up here at the farmstand. We just finished putting up a playground up here and have plowed up a quarter acre for pick-your-own flowers and herbs. I’m hoping to see a good place for people to come and enjoy and pick up produce to cook but also have a hangout, have a cup of coffee, maybe pick flowers for their dinner table.