Did this tomato go through the subway? | Agriculture

T.Aunt Lou’s oral history of the Underground Railroad tomatoes could easily fit on an index card with room to spare.According to the story, a black man entered Ohio through the border Kentucky. Details about when he made this journey are unknown, but he may have been during slavery or long after emancipation. During his travels he visited Ripley. Ripley is a town characterized by pro-slaveryists as infested with the most loathsome race, the abolitionists. While there, he gave some of the tomato seeds he had to a white woman. Years later, her great-nephew Frances Parker began sharing the seeds of what became “Aunt Lou’s Tomatoes” with gardening enthusiasts. The species passed from person to person and spread to a small corner of Kentucky and southwestern Ohio connected by the Ohio River. The area is known for subway stops where escaped slaves are secretly transported to the free states.

At one point, Kentucky Tomato guru Gary Millwood suggested a revision of the botanical name to fellow seed keepers who knew about the variety.Millwood A white man, he was asked to reflect on the anti-slavery movement in this factory’s obvious home and to recognize how enslaved people in captivity contributed to the building of the country’s agricultural wealth. Suggested adding the “Underground Railroad” section. Few plants bear the name of black Americans who controlled flora and fauna in fields and feeding grounds, despite centuries of forced farming giving way to tenant farming and other exploitative labor systems. While black workers cultivated the land, white Americans have usually been credited with importing, breeding, and growing the crops that have become essential to America’s diet and economy. With Millwood’s move, the pinkish beefsteak tomato has gone down in history as one of the few vegetable varieties whose name cites, even in a roundabout way, the contribution of black people to what we grow and eat. solidified its position.

Aunt Lou’s Underground Railroad Tomatoes illustrates the difficulty of building a more comprehensive and accurate historical record. Documenting the lives of African-Americans who were denied slavery the three elements that make them more “traceable”: surnames, property ownership, and literacy is often a maddeningly long dead end. lead to the list. Still, a growing number of farmers, seed keepers and historians are devoting their research to unearthing as much as possible how Black Americans managed and preserved plants.

Amira Mitchell is one such excavator, sista seeds, a farm that grows and sells seeds of cultural imports to African diaspora communities. Some of the seeds she offers also include large, curvy cassava grown by her North Carolina ancestors. Caribbean tomatoes that may have been brought to the United States by immigrants fleeing the Haitian Revolution.and fish chili Collected by early 20th century folk artists Horace Pippin. After finding Aunt Lou’s Underground Tomato in the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange database, Mitchell added it to the inventory of Truelove Seeds, a company that produces seeds in partnership with 50 farms nationwide. She likes to produce plentiful fruit that is low in acidity and whose weight can sag a shelf, and how to make firm planks for sandwiches that are hard to come by, flat and dry. I highly appreciate this tomato with a lot of. Squirrels also seem to have a particular hunger for squirrels, she added. “The story of Aunt Lou is more fleshed out than most of the other stories we have,” she said, although the story of Tomatoes on the Underground Railroad is still far from finished. “Some of the seeds I manage have far too little detail. is truly amazing.”

The connection between common food items and slavery may not be obvious, but the global slave trade involved not only people, but plants as well. Slave ships carried yams and peanuts as food for the prisoners of war. The hardy African grass that once served as flooring for the stinking rooms on board has taken root (and is now making a comeback) along the coast of South Carolina. As a highly attractive and durable golf course lawn). Some slave laborers recruited people from West Africa’s “rice coast”, including present-day Senegal and Sierra Leone, seeking special expertise in the crop, in hopes of bringing that grain to the Americas. looked for. And when Africans landed in the Americas, they interacted with new plants, incorporated indigenous knowledge into their new lives, and became the most important and involuntary agricultural labor force in the Americas.

From his hilltop home near Ripley, Ohio, abolitionist John Rankin monitored slave-hunting movements, hanging lanterns to warn escaped slaves that the shores were clear. Photo: New York Public Library

In the worlds of plant biology and zoology, a cultivar or species is often named by the person who bred, “discovered” or introduced it. However, enslaved people had no rights to intellectual property as they were themselves classified as property. Perhaps the most famous example is Antoine, a Louisiana man who, in the 1840s, grafted a pecan tree that no one else could. His work resulted in the successful reproduction of trees, resulting in numerous breeds and establishing a thriving business to this day.US produced approx. 2022 Harvest Worth $490 Million, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Antoine’s work was exhibited at the National Exposition decades later, and his pecan variety was named Centennial after the event.

At least that story has a name. Appeared in Encyclopedia of Fruits and Vegetables, published in 1863 watermelon The memo reads: [Adam Summer], owner of the Ravenscroft Plantation in South Carolina. As with the unidentified man who landed in Ripley, Ohio, his status as a slave or a free man is shrouded in mystery. Freemen were a small fraction of South Carolina’s population before 1865, but lived in a small enclave near Ravenscroft in Newbury County. Summer’s friend, for growing the nearly sixty-pound specimen, Milton Odell, props and produce were named after him. But South Carolina-based scholar James Kibler, who studies the horticultural heritage of the Summers family farm, disputes that notion, saying, “Milton O’Dell didn’t invent that watermelon.” told me “And so did Adam Summer. and took it to Adam. It’s probably closer to that story. Mitchell, who lists the plant’s seeds on his website, deliberately avoids the nickname Odell in favor of “a big, white watermelon.” She is looking for better ways for people who have heard of the plant to identify it and reflect its origins.

Christopher Bolden Newsom, co-founder of True Love Seeds with her husband Owen Taylor, told me that studying plant roots requires a concerted effort. Rather than resting on her claim that modern explorers had discovered a rare pink-striped peanut in the Ecuadorian Amazon, she asked her Ecuadorian colleagues and South American partners to track it down. I requested. And tracing what they’ve done traces it all the way back to the Shuar and Atchuar indigenous communities to which Trulove donates a portion of her seed proceeds. Newsom found that such knowledge was not always contained in books. “The problem with a more literal, letter-based society is the need for written evidence,” he says. “It’s kind of a function of the European mindset. If it hadn’t been written, it wouldn’t have happenedHe added that stories are just as important to heirloom plants as the literal seeds themselves. Descendants may not have a precise origin story, he said. “But it’s easy to make up a new story. The food the seed produces is immediately tied to human activity and emotion.” A meal after a milestone, the last seed planted before losing the family farm.

The story, like the seed, is dynamic. They grow and move, sometimes in unexpected ways. New information may emerge. Stories are dropped and details are picked up. They are spoken, heard, recorded and changed over time. Taylor is always thinking about plant storytelling. He has written all his Truelove seed descriptions. He wants to include accurate data while simultaneously understanding that oral history is valid, that archived evidence is not always authoritative, and that people want meaning. “There is a blurred line between powerful metaphor and history,” he told me. “I’m not a historian. I want to understand history as best I can, but I’m thirsty to reconstruct stories of power and emancipation.”

An illustration of a runaway slave from 1898.
An illustration of a runaway slave from 1898. Photo: New York Public Library

So did Jay Erisman, a Cincinnati distillery owner with a broad interest in heirloom grains, especially Aunt Lou’s Underground Railroad Tomatoes. He was fascinated by the story and submitted the tomato to the judging panel. Ark of taste, a global list of endangered or distinctive foods. A hobbyist historian, Ehrismann tried to track Aunt Lou’s Underground Railroad Tomatoes and hit the expected obstacles. He was unable to identify the details of the various stories he heard. Did Aunt Lou really say the man used to be a slave? If so, what does it mean? Was he freed on the Underground Railroad, or did they simply meet after slavery was abolished? “I think naming it really honors not only Francis and Aunt Lou, but where it came from. [maybe] The slave man who delivered it,” Erismann said. “I started imagining him crossing the Ohio River. His stuff was in a bag over his head, and it contained these tomato seeds. I don’t know if that was really the case.”

Ultimately, Ehrismann decided that the most valuable thing about Aunt Lou’s Underground Railroad Tomatoes wasn’t the pursuit of the truth or the ‘real’ story. Instead, people of different ages engaged in the age-old custom of gifting precious seeds to each other, an act of kindness and community.

https://www.theguardian.com/science/2023/jun/19/did-this-tomato-travel-the-underground-railroad Did this tomato go through the subway? | Agriculture

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