About a year ago, chef Adrian Lipscombe began thinking of ways to create a space where Black farmers had the freedom to grow their own produce. That’s when she thought up the “40 Acres and a Mule” initiative, a project designed to offer reparations to Black farmers in the form of land. The name is a nod to the special field order given by General William Sherman after the end of the civil war, promising Blacks who served 40 acres of land and a mule. The promise was never kept and the government rescinded the reparations offers after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. But Lipscombe is bringing history full circle, making good on her intentions.
Shortly after developing the initiative, Lipscombe launched a GoFundMe, raising more than $150,000 which allowed her to purchase the land. She first received an anonymous $1000 donation followed by a vast number of supporters donating including celebrity chefs Mashama Bailey and David Thomas. Lipscombe decided to purchase the land in South Carolina because of the state’s connection to enslaved people.
“Slaves were here…As an African American chef, I am really interested in reclaiming the narrative of where the food of this country started,” Lipscombe told reporters.
Now the dream is in full bloom, Lipscombe focused on cultivating the 39 acres of land she purchased in Helena, South Carolina, preparing it for the influx of Black farmers she hopes to draw.
“We were cooking as slaves, as the cooks in these kitchens. We want to recreate those kitchens. We want to celebrate, but also explain to others and to the public. We want the community to come to this land. We want them to be able to come celebrate on this land,” Lipscombe said.
With Black farmers making up less than 2% of the population, Lipscombe hopes to use the land as a place where Black farmers can educate themselves about the history of the sector in addition to growing their own crops. On Juneteenth, she held a celebration in honor of the initiative’s launch, celebrating with other chefs and working to help expand efforts.
“What is so interesting is that slaves weren’t allowed to be in big groups. And so a lot of those leaders came together and they bought land, where they would go and celebrate Juneteenth, and food was a huge portion of this celebration of freedom,” Lipscombe said.
The mother of four and Wisconsin cafe owner hopes to inspire the next generation of chefs and farmers to follow in her footsteps.
“Land is huge. Land brings identity. Land brings community. Land brings freedom. It allows us to navigate in this world, to create our history, to respect our history, but also bring forth our future,” Lipscombe said.
To keep up with her work and support the movement, follow the “40 Acres and a Mule” project on Instagram here.