On St. Helena Island in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Muloma Heritage Center is creating a space to honor the past, present, and future of African Atlantic culture, cuisine, and traditions.
Muloma Heritage Center is a project co-founded by a group of chefs, agriculture experts, and artists including Adrian Lipscombe, Michael Twitty, and Tonya and David Thomas. They acquired 38 acres of land for the Center’s work, where they plan to celebrate and teach visitors about the foodways of the African Diaspora.
Lipscombe, who is also the Founder of the 40 Acres Project tells Food Tank that in 2020, following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer, “you could feel the thickness of my community, the frustration, the anger.”
At the time, Lipscombe was running her restaurant Uptowne Cafe in Wisconsin, and she began to receive money from people looking for ways to support. Unsure of what to do with the funds, she thought about the producers in her network who were struggling due to restaurant closures during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This led her “down a rabbit hole,” she says, as she began to consider the struggles of Black farmers who own just 1 percent of agricultural land in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “I put a GoFundMe together to purchase Black land which I thought would be sacred enough to hold information about Black agriculture,” Lipscombe tells Food Tank. This was the start of the 40 Acres Project.
During these months, Lipscombe also began speaking with other Black chefs, including many who had just returned home from visits to Africa. On their trips, these chefs “were solidly in states and countries that were Black, and they had land access and land ownership, and we’re thinking: How can we do this here in the United States?” she tells Food Tank.
Through conversations, Lipscombe and her fellow founding members of Muloma Heritage Center, identified a plot of 38 acres of land on St. Helena Island to serve as a home for the institution. “And we have been working very diligently…[to figure out] what we should do with this property, especially to honor our Black foodways and also Black agriculture.”
The Center’s name comes from a Mende word that means “we are together,” a reference to the importance of relationships. “No matter who we are, how do we come together?” Lipscombe asks. “And that brings me right back to the circle of food. We are looking beyond just the chefs, the food to the plate. [We are looking at] the history of how we make this food, the resources, the study of it…And for me, with this land, we are hoping to be able to tell that story and to create a place for people to come in and to see that story.”
Listen to the full conversation with Adrian Lipscombe of “Food Talk with Dani Nierenberg” to hear about a new announcement that will support the growth of Muloma Heritage Center, the importance of archival work to preserve Black foodways, and the responsibility of chefs to contribute to more sustainable food and agriculture systems.
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Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture