Food & Restaurants

Harvest the Block: Supporting the Black Culinary Community

Written by  Wednesday, December 14, 2016
 Crispy Southern Catfish Crispy Southern Catfish Images by Shanna Jones

Houston Black Restaurant Week has shown tremendous success in their first year. Even with the ever-evolving culinary scene here in Houston, there is always room to continue to educate and increase the visibility of African American culinary professionals and farmers. HOUBRW's method? Create experiences that provide a platform for exposure on both sides - for those in the industry and those who enjoy and reap the benefits of their skills and passion. Harvest the Block would be the second series put on by HOUBRW this year. This fall series is slightly different from the spring, mostly in the type of events that are created. The mission and goals, of course, remain the same. To get the deets on the many events that occurred during the inaugural Harvest the Block visit here.

The Reunion Community Dinner

Harvest the Block was comprised of 3 days of culinary-centric experiences and one event in particular hit home for me - The Reunion Community Dinner (which would be broken into two parts). The first component of the evening would set the stage for an hour of intimate storytelling. Made possible by the Houston Area Urban League Young Professionals, several black-owned farmers would share their amazing and thought-provoking stories. From childhood tales to their trials and tribulations, hard work, successes and failures, and even moments of genuine emotion, the story time was truly memorable. I left with an immense amount of knowledge and a goal to personally support these farmers as much as I could (see more on this below).

This was then followed by a family-style dinner under the direction of local chefs Javani King and Yolanda Henry. I promise this was a spread fit for a king (or a foodie like myself!). Eight dishes tempted our tastebuds including an Arugula, Mesclun, and Endive Salad generously topped with blueberries (oh those blueberries!), Smoked Turkey Braised Greens, Candied Sweet Potatoes (my favorite), Mac and Cheese (my other favorite), Orange Apricot Glazed Cornish Hens, Crispy Southern Catfish, Sweet Southern Cornbread, and a mason jar of bread pudding. As I enjoyed dinner and shared my own journey via food, I turned a few strangers into new friends that day. This dinner was a culmination of the hard work the HOUBRW team put into this series. Stay tuned for next year's events and get involved!

Supporting Black Agriculture

Writing about food for many years, my appreciation for the culinary world stretches far beyond what's on my plate. And as I've dug deeper and peeled back the layers, I've been exposed to an entirely new perspective, and there began my introduction to farm-to-table and the people that made my experiences possible. 

Agriculture is the foundation of the culinary industry, but African Americans are poorly represented (and in many cases there is a lack of support). According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the number of African American farmers has increased 12 percent since 2007, however, African American farmers still make up less than 2 percent of the nation’s agricultural community, and only account for less than 1 percent of total agricultural sales.

With our economic reach, it goes without saying that we can support one another much more than we do now. Not only does our support have a direct impact on the number of opportunities we have in our community, but it provides access to new markets, additional programs, capital, and other needed services for our farmers. I urge you to increase your expenditures so these farmers can grow and hopefully begin supplying the grocery stores in our community. Yes, we have made progress over the last few years, but African-American farmers are still behind the eight ball. Sustainability is key here. Although there are not many, I do recommend supporting local farmers Plant It Forward Farms and Milliesbarn Veggie Farm.

This fall series benefited the Blue Triangle Community Center (formally the first branch of Houston’s YWCA) to assist in upgrading their community commercial kitchen. Founded during World War I, the center became the place where women of color could safely meet to learn and recreate. Learn more about their community activities and programs, including dance classes, their swim program, day camps, and garden clubs by visiting here. The location was certified-Texas Registered Historical Site in May 2002 and continues its legacy to thrive as a valuable asset to the Third Ward Community.

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