SFA Symposium
The Cultivated South
October 28-30, 2011 

The Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, hosted the fourteenth annual Southern Foodways Symposium October 28-30, 2011, in Oxford, Mississippi, and on the campus of the University of Mississippi. This year’s theme was the Cultivated South. For much of our region’s history, agriculture has driven the Southern economy. From sugarcane plantations in the Gulf South to bean-and-corn subsistence farms in the Mountain South, our lives have long revolved around the cultivation of soils and the propagation of crops.

Much good recent work has been done on the documentation and preservation of our natural resources. We now know the names of imperiled strains of rice and their histories in the Lowcountry. We know the value of saving the seeds of shuck beans to ensure the future of Appalachian biodiversity.

Now it’s time to explore the culture of agriculture. To investigate the farm ideal, from both Christian and Muslim perspectives. To comprehend the unfulfilled promises of Forty Acres and a Mule. To reclaim the pimento as a vegetable. To welcome the return of olive trees to Georgia and South Carolina. Now it’s time to explore the Cultivated South.

Curious eaters sampled Lowcountry riffs on the prevailing farm-to-table ethic from Mike Lata of Charleston, South Carolina. And April McGreger, a daughter of Mississippi, now pickling and preserving in Carrboro, North Carolina. And Billy Allin, the locavore-in-charge at Cakes & Ale in Decatur, Georgia.

Curious drinkers tasted tipples from the late Eugene Walter, bard of Mobile. And listened to the musings of Dave Wondrich and Jack Pendarvis, who know a thing or three about cultivating a taste for drink.

Artistic expressions of food culture continue to make our hearts go pitter-pat. Amos Kennedy, the Alabama letterpress maven, paid broadside tribute to okra’s import. And on Sunday morning, following hard on the heels of the ballet we staged a couple years back, we commissioned an opera, based on Leaves of Greens, a collection of poems from Ayden, North Carolina’s Collard Festival.

Each year the SFA presents three awards. Ken Hardy and Brad Hardy, of Hardy Family Farms in Hawkinsville, Georgia, accepted the Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award. The Ruth Fertel Keeper of the Flame Award honors an unsung hero or heroine of the culinary world, a foodways tradition bearer of note. In honor of their work, SFA collaborator Joe York made a short film, “Hot Wet Goobers,” which focused on Hardy Farms and their boiled green peanut stands in South Georgia.

The John Egerton Prize – which comes with a $5,000 cash stipend — was awarded to artist Phil Blank. The John Egerton Prize recognizes artists, writers, scholars, activists and others whose work addresses issues of race, class, gender, and social and environmental justice through the lens of food.

The SFA’s Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Dori Sanders, a writer who still operates her family’s peach farm outside of Filbert, South Carolina. The Craig Claiborne Award goes to an individual whom all thinking eaters should know, the sort of person who has made an indelible mark upon our cuisine and our culture, the sort of person who has set regional standards and catalyzed national dialogues.