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Talking with: Almeta Tulloss of the Athens Land Trust

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Left: Almeta Tulloss of A Labor of Lunch and the Athens Land Trust. Right: Nicole Bluh of the Good Shepherd Agroecology Center

By Nicole Bluh of the Good Shepherd Agroecology Center

There are many positions coming available in the periphery of the field of agriculture… urban agriculture, agriculture policy and research, and non-profit business organizations have jobs for folks who are transitioning out of other fields and for activists in the food movement.

Many people end up sitting in buildings and in front of computers or at desks and meeting tables for many hours a day with jobs that supposedly advocate for ag work. Some really are assisting. Some are completely out of touch with the movement due to lack of experience and lack of connection to the land, the work, and its spirit.

A couple weekends ago I stayed over in Athens, Ga., on my way to Danielsville to visit with Almeta Tulloss. We first connected years ago over a conversation about growing mushrooms at the cafe she was running inside the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. Later we found out we were connected in many other ways including that she was one of the pioneers of creating an artists communal living space in Atlanta where I lived years after her. Now almost every time we’ve seen each other lately, we have worked on some sort of project together that involves processing of our fresh vegetables or wildcrafting plants.

Almeta moved out to Athens to pursue a scientific degree in nutrition after working on multiple farms in rural Georgia. She works with the Athens Land Trust and still manages to grow delicious natural food and offer it and the wonderful meals and products she makes from it to the community.

Our recent meeting was a vibrant visit that actually consisted of a late late evening and early morning. As we arrived at her spot around Midnight, Almeta showed me around the space she has completely planted up in between her apartment and a gravel parking lot. Her garden has even expanded into some of her adjacent neighbors space.

I got into Athens at 11 p.m. and met up with Almeta, who was on her bicycle downtown. As soon as I saw her we were IN IT! We see each other every few months and so as soon as we meet we get into discussing what has been going on around this agricultural movement. This weekend in particular that I came out to see her we processed green beans into Dilly Beans right after midnight in preparation for her demo at the West Broad Farmers Market. Then we went to sleep, woke up and went to set up the farmers market!

As we were discussing the climate around ag for us, both of us were brought to the topic of the abundance of “middle men” with paid or granted positions. We also spoke about the disconnectedness of many who have office jobs related to AG and are not growers.

Almeta, one reason it’s so important to highlight your work is that your position in the field of agriculture is not ‘farmer,’ but by visiting growers and listening to their needs you’re able to support and engage with them in a very real way. Can you share a bit more about the position you have with the Athens Land Trust? It seems to be quite broad but also very specialized (like the actual market and the demos.) Well the position is grant-funded through a collaboration with the USDA-NRCS, the National Resources Conservation Service originally the Soil Conservation Service. Gotta love that right? Soil is so important! As a Master Composter and general adorer of that deep red clay we call home to I feel grateful to be in the service of soil. I work specifically setting up workshops in rural areas to disseminate information to traditionally “underserved” farmers. Basically the USDA has money set aside to pay for wells, irrigation, fencing and other costly but necessary infrastructure for farms. Traditionally this money has gone primarily to white-owned farms and larger land owners. My job is to both outreach to and advocate for racial minorities, young punks out on some land, women, new beginners, queer folks, earth spirits, and basically anyone in a 10 county range who falls outside the “norm” for farmers.

How is the position you have with the Athens Land trust unique and what is some of the creative work you have been able to explore with them? It’s unique in that I wouldn’t really think a job this awesome could exist! Sometimes when I’m out in the country talking about farming to these amazingly exceptional rural souls I have to slap myself and go “Am I really getting paid to do this right now?”

The job is also special because I serve as part of the support team to the whole Community Agriculture program at the Land Trust. Which means I get to participate in Farm to School, coordinating events and Farm Tours, presenting nutrition and food demonstrations, as well as strategizing and celebrating around local food policy. It’s rad. Plus there’s food and flowers.

The conversation we often have about the nutritional content of soil is pertinent. Can you explain about the conversation around this topic in the University setting and how your work with this degree is going to address that? Girl, that conversation is PERTINENT. Like *ssskkkkkkwww STOP THE RECORD. Why does nutrition school not require some education about soil? It’s crazy! You can get it if you want it, especially at a land grant university like the University of Georgia, but you gotta want to go there, you won’t be guided there.

The conversation is there in cross-disciplinary upper level schools of thought, but for a lowly undergrad with dirty fingernails like me? It’s still about just advocating to have the conversation on a broader scale. Right now I’m focusing on garnering nutrition information that is scientifically based to small farmers, and can be distilled down into marketing information directed at educating consumers about the value of consuming local food. Like what is an Omega-3 fatty acid? Why does it matter? And what is the science on locally produced meat?

A Labor of Lunch is a vehicle to share my passion for nutritious, wild, local, and herbal foods. Where land, culture, and conservation play on equal footing with flavor. Deep nutrition!

How has your relationship with the soil guided and continue to guide you? I laid upon the ground to rest, and let the weeds grow thru my chest; medicines to heal me.

You shared with me how you have recently sent in a proposal to the Southern Foodways Alliance that will incorporate storytelling with a food preparation demo. Will you explain the importance of this story and the proposal? Wow! Yes, so the story will basically be my coming of age as a black female farmer in Georgia. The symposium is celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, so I’m focusing on describing my experience of a food revelation of place and taste. I was fortunate enough to spend time working in one of the most important food spaces in Atlanta’s history the Sweet Auburn Curb Market so I will spend time speaking about that, and then transition to my current position, at the West Broad Farmer’s Market in Athens, GA. The market is located at this beautiful decaying relic of Athens’ difficult racial, educational history.

That’s the details, but the importance lies in the humanity of it. The importance of hearing voices that have traditionally been silenced. As a daughter of slaves and Natives I know very well my place on the land and in the kitchen. But it’s time that I’m welcomed to the table and my experience is valued.

That said, I know so many powerful women of ALL colors, shapes and sizes have come before me and beaten a path that I tread, and it is my duty to continue the tradition of trail-blazing, plowing forward, and lying still in the silent places, places that can sometimes be very uncomfortable.

What specifically do see that you offer this move back to true agriculture and community? Well I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I could offer a rural community. Ever since my time spent on a farm in Nova Scotia, where locals traded in skills represented by “hours” instead of money, I was like “Well what the hell can I do that’s worth something?” So… 10 years down the line all I can do is listen to my heart, which tells me to cook. Simple right? All of this really comes back to down to the food. It’s the common denominator. We all gotta eat.

I also offer a radical and creative approach to anything I do, building outside the box! Which I think can be really valuable when you’re working to create economically viable farm businesses, and support economic development within communities. Creativity and perseverance.

I definitely plan to continue to grow food and share it, that is truly life’s greatest joy! In my wildest dreams I’ll marry a farmer and get to live an abundant rural family life. I would love to cook for a school that has a farm, and do nutrition education for youth and in the community.

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