For the past several years, the preeminent annual professional development event in the local area of my chosen industry has approached without an expectation on my part of attending. For one reason or another, the resources for registration or travel and lodging in the case of this year just weren’t available in the necessary time frame. However, each time a proverbial “ram in the bush” has appeared in the nick of time as if my presence at the Georgia Organics conference was a divinely ordained necessity. This year’s sacrifice was made by my friend and neighbor named Shawn Walton of WeCycle Atlanta, who declined a registration scholarship he had and transferred it to me (many thanks Big Brah!). Additionally, transportation to the atypical venue of Jekyll Island GA from Atlanta where I reside was graciously offered by Baba Cashawn Meyers of HABESHA Inc (give thanks!). Being from the area close to Jekyll, Cashawn also opened his family’s home to the group of us he adopted for this sojourn of agricultural education. Altogether, grace of a particularly well designed and intentional sort has made things possible for those of us who needed a way.
There are twelve total on this trip together in a rented thirteen passenger van, some of us acquaintances or close friends already while others only known to each other by reputation or not at all. We are now bonded together by a fellowship born out of both desire and necessity. Our shared passions for food justice or “abundance” has motivated us to undertake this pilgrimage, while limited resources invented the requirement that we find a communal way to make attendance at the conference happen for the group. As the sweet succor of fabricated family descended upon us within our van of vindication, I savored my reflections on how wonderful it was that we were together in this way. Sons and daughters of those enslaved or sharecropped in this most southern state of the South have chosen to both reclaim and remake our collective heritage and inheritance as people of soil’s toils. The circle has not only been unbroken, it is also being enlarged and transformed.
Cashawn’s family is based in a small town called Woodbine, close to the coastal area of Georgia’s sea islands. After a more than pleasant road trip across the Peach state from its capitol, we rolled into the Meyers compound in wonder of what we would experience and find together. Our first step out of the vehicle was met by the soft welcome of Georgia’s finest earth, producing a bounty of food in an impressive backyard market garden cultivated by the family’s neighbor. We were clearly in the right place. The heads of collard greens were full and flush with the chlorophyll of life, their leaves wrapped in spirals of vigorous nutritiousness. I instinctively reached down to feel and then taste the tender leaves of mustards, craving the peppery and pungent flavor that I favor among the greens family. Having been traumatized as urban farmers by the hostile and hazardous recent winter weather in Atlanta, many of us were caught in a temporary trance of sorts by the contrast of this rural horticultural sanctuary. What a difference 300 miles can make.
We then had the pleasure of meeting Cashawn’s grandparents and learning a bit about the origins of our Brother-Soldier in Chief. Revelations from him about childhood experiences and nicknames led to a round robin disclosure from us all who carried alternative monikers of one type or another. Each one was interesting, some were funny, others were poignant. In all, the spontaneous group sharing brought us immediately closer together in one of those unplanned but perfectly purposeful ways. My sharing was that the family called me “Bolo” for a time when I was a toddler and young child, as my early years were accompanied by “baby fat”. However, while typing this reflection I remember that it was my eldest and recently deceased brother Dannie who dubbed me with this nickname and mostly used it. I press on with this sharing, allowing the still persistence grief and loss to pass over me prickly once again (I miss you Dannie).
Last on the itinerary for the day was a evening meal hosted by Cashawn’s cousin Tina Meyers who also lives not too far away on Amelia Island FL. Her residence was equally or perhaps exceedingly cultivated in home garden abundance just as the first site we met. There were numerous beds of buoyant vegetables plots in the front as well as a full blown fruit orchard in her backyard. At this point, most in our entourage were questioning the choice to reside in a landlocked city of mere mortal food production capacity. But we all have our ancestral assignments. Tina had blessed her pots with a seemingly endless flow of brilliantly flavorful vegetarian fare and we broke bread together as family should, touched by both wine and wisdom from conversations intoxicated with spirits of all kinds. I feel almost guilty divulging all this, knowing how much envy it may stir in those who would also enjoy an excursion of this nature. Truly, what happens in Amelia should stay in Amelia. But still …
I am writing this blog the next morning as our crew arises from night’s slumber and are busy preparing themselves for the day’s activities with our ostensible purpose for being here, the Georgia Organics conference. However, I can’t help but feel that the conference may now be the side show and the real center of this trip is the fellowship of the brothers and sisters I am blessed to share. Whatever may await us in the plenary sessions and workshops of this event, it is likely to pale in comparison to what we have learned about ourselves already. Ase’?