The following is a guest post by West Virginia State Folklorist Emily Hilliard, who directs the West Virginia Folklife Program, based at the West Virginia Humanities Council. AFC staff have been working with Emily, as well as Mike Costello and Amy Dawson of Lost Creek Farm, to co-produce the Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia program, a series of four films that explore a range of food traditions in the state, premiering on the AFC’s Facebook page on Wednesday, August 18th (noon EST), Wednesday, September 1st (noon EST) and Wednesday, September 15th (double feature @ noon EST), with a culminating discussion panel on Thursday, September 30th (1PM EST).
This Wednesday, August 18 at noon EST on the American Folklife Center’s Facebook page, we will premiere our first film in the Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia series, featuring Dr. Jonathan Hall on foraging and relations.
In the video, West Virginia filmmakers, farmers, and chefs Mike Costello and Amy Dawson will be joined by fellow hunter and forager Jonathan Hall as they sustainably harvest ramps, morels, oyster mushrooms, and more. Like the Black fishers, hunters, and foragers recorded for the AFC by Mary Hufford in Harlem Heights in the 1990s, Jonathan reflects on the experience of being a Black outdoorsman hunting and foraging in virtually all-white spaces in rural West Virginia, discussing how racism has created unique barriers to entry to the practice of outdoor foodways traditions in Appalachia.
As a teacher to his friends, to his children, and professionally, as a biology professor at Eastern Michigan University (formerly at West Virginia University), Jonathan uses wild food to educate about the conservation of the resources that sustain us, informed by the ethos of “relations” that has guided Indigenous communities for thousands of years before white settlers arrived in Appalachia. The film adds to existing documentation in the AFC archival collections on ramp harvesting and mushroom foraging, as well as the experiences of Black hunters, fishers, and foragers in West Virginia.
In addition to scenes of Hall and his family foraging in the hills of northern West Virginia, Hall also prepares his version of the Zambian dish nshima and relish—a cooked cornmeal cake and meat and tomato-based stew—which his parents learned to cook during their time serving in the Peace Corps. His variation includes local West Virginia heritage ingredients both wild and cultivated, such as salt trout, heirloom tomatoes, bloody butcher cornmeal, lambsquarters, and venison sausage (made from deer harvested by Costello and Hall).
This film is first in the AFC’s Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia film series program, a series of four films produced by Mike Costello and Amy Dawson of Lost Creek Farm, with support from the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council. The films, which explore a range of food traditions in the state, will premiere on the AFC’s Facebook page on Wednesday, August 18th (noon EST), Wednesday, September 1st (noon EST) and Wednesday, September 15th (double feature starting @ noon EST), with a culminating discussion panel on Thursday, September 30th (1PM EST), which you can register for here. Learn more about the series here, and we hope you join us!
Additional reading and media:
“Hunting While Black in West Virginia,” April 2018, Explore Parts Unknown.
“Notes from an Angry Black Hunter: Guns, Genocide and the Stolen Land You ‘Own,'” February 2019, ReWire News.
“Bigos, Big Does and Hunting While Black,” Pickle Shelf Radio Hour podcast.