Crop Stories is an annual magazine series that focuses on a crop in each edition. Collards is the first edition in the series since The Utopian Seed Project inherited it. This issue is full of stories, poetry, art and recipes. Mehmet Öztan, co-owner of Two Seeds in a Pod, also contributed to the edition with his article titled Grief and growing: An immigrant seed keeper’s story of cultivating connection.
Editor Dr. Cynthia Greenlee‘s note:
When Chris Smith asked me to co-edit this volume with him and Melissa DeSa, part of me thought, “Will we have enough articles about collard greens to justify a whole issue?” Though I understood how beloved the collard is in my native North Carolina and South (and knew about the Heirloom Collard Project), I somehow couldn’t imagine that too many people would come out of the proverbial woodwork to write about this sturdy plant.
I was proven wrong again and again — as Chris and Melissa connected with writers, farmers, scholars and thinkers who almost universally and enthusiastically accepted their invitations to be part of this publication. I think so many said yes because collard lovers tend to think of these greens as the James Brown of vegetables — the hardest working plant around. Some even get a little huffy at the latter-day kale craze and want to put some “respeck” on collards’ name.
We’ve tried to honor and echo collard biodiversity with the editorial variety in this zine. The cover is by Chicago’s Alexandra Antoine, who explores African diaspora foodways through visual art and poetry. Chris gives a short history of the Heirloom Collard Project. Mark Farnham’s short glossary delineates the type of collards (illustrated by Kristen Eggen), and Melissa’s illustrated tour of the growing cycle helps us get to know the plant better.
One of the through lines coursing through this journal is the mobility and adaptability of the collard. Michael Twitty’s ode to the collard pays loving homage to the vegetable. Historian David Shields of the University of South Carolina uses seed catalogs to briefly explore how collards became Southern. Ed Davis of Emory & Henry College recounts the months of road-tripping he spent collecting heirlooms for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and how he met seed saver Levi Grissett in the process. Farmer Kamal Bell of central North Carolina shares concrete reasons why he will always plant collards (and a bit about how he does it). West Virginia-based engineer and seed company owner Mehmet Öztan takes us to his native Turkey and the land of memory. And Max Walker shares the story of how the purple tree collard (yes, collards aren’t simply green, and, yes, they can grow tall) got to Richmond, California, a Bay area community that has adopted that particular variety as an official symbol of the city.
And there are other delights. Chef Ashleigh Shanti’s six simple recipes might change how you cook with this ingredient. South Carolina’s Natalie Daise inspired her daughter with collard paintings. And I reserve the right to give myself another title — collard poetry editor — because we’re publishing verse by the late writers Lucille Clifton; Maurice Mitchell, a Pulitzer Prize poetry finalist from Kentucky; and Louisiana-born philosopher Lindsey Stewart. I also contribute a short essay about how collards, like watermelon, has been used in less pleasant poetry to mock Black Americans. Turns out that there’s quite a bit of collard poetry floating around in the world — which seems to be a message that, while we may consume the collard, it consumes us as well.