A year ago, I was looking for a way and a means to go deeper into how and why I “do” food. I remember feeling frustrated that there wasn’t an obvious outlet to discuss food X race X gender X more, on a larger scale. Conferences seemed overly interested in focusing on “sustainability” or “business”, words often used within white communities keeping busy withholding their wealth and assets. I finally just googled “Radical Food Conference” and, to my surprise (or perhaps my pessimistic naiveté), I found Resistance Served; a conference focused on the food industry centering people of color, by people of color, specifically black women.
Resistance Served, a conference put on by Radical XChange, opened its symposium day with a panel discussion on Black Women and Labor. Gia Hamilton took the stage alongside Devita Davidson, Krystal Mack and Dr. Alisha Hines. The words of each of these women hit with such power, swirling around the room and lifting the other words up before landing as chicken scratch on my page as I rushed to hold onto everything that was being shared.
Resistance Served did a remarkable job of creating an environment for conversations of transformative justice. I will attempt to share some of what was said although nothing will compare to the experience of being present for this conversation. My attempt here is to summarize the experience I had through my lens, not to narrate what happened. So let’s begin; struggle culture is a side effect of oppression, these incredibly accomplished women were rewriting the narrative, creating new tribes, building new tables and forging their own seats.
Dr. Alisha Hines, a historian focused on black women’s mobility, points to mobility as a strategy of survival as equally worth exploring and celebrating as the act of reclaiming groundedness. It’s asked, what are the boundaries of black women’s work? Is it containable? With a response, in short, that it is so much vaster than what is monetized. There are so few direct accounts in history by black women, points out Dr. Hines. It is important for black women to tell stories as there’s healing in the act of telling. Others quickly point out that one can easily get stuck in the monetizing of these stories, which inevitably changes the stories themselves. So, to heal is to decolonize, to decolonize is to imagine new futures, to tell new stories, to grow capacity. Black women’s labor has inevitably been used by others, so with this healing, with these stories and with this built capacity, black women go back into the community and supply resources.
Devita Davidson spills the tea, Rosa Parks didn’t just sit. Hear this: Rosa Parks didn’t just sit. She was a NAACP investigator documenting and recording violence. Black women were laboring for decades before the movement. Civil Rights bake sales created independence, un-bought and un-bossed. Leaving the question “what if black women’s labor was the central narrative of the civil rights movement?”.
No one is self made, you are community made. This felt so true to me as someone who has felt uncomfortable declaring that I’m “self taught”, when in truth, every experience, community, mentor, friend has passed so much along to me on my journey to get to where I am now. I felt such a relief to hear it said, community made. Finally, yes, that’s it, that’s what I am. There was so much relief throughout this conversation, listening to things said I’d been aching to hear.
We’re moving on, are you still with me? This conversation was fast and dense, these women somehow touching down with depth into so many important areas without hesitation or fear, speaking out in power. “Blackness is in”. It always has been and it always will be, it just gets framed and marketed in different ways. Today it’s black girl magic, what once was the mammy. White people take blackness and make money on it, then turn around and give back crumbs. “How can you come out of extraction whole?” We bounced back by building our own table, forging our own seat, “stop living in the imagination of the white male chef”, build outside of their imagination.
I’m going to ask white people this question: Do you see yourself extracting and exploiting or gaining from black girl magic? Are you collaborating with someone because blackness is in? What benefits are the people/communities of color you’re working with getting? If you are white in the United States you have assets, or you have access to assets in a different way. Are you sharing those assets? I am going to circle back around to these questions in more depth, and with more focus on the white businesses and nonprofits in Baltimore, in another blog later this month.
“What do you need?” was the last question Gia asked. “Graciousness”. “Food for us, by us”. “To heal intergenerational trauma”. “The mammy was created by a white narrative to desexualize and box in black women, what we need is for black women to take their narrative back”. And so they spoke into existence their narrative, declaring a new table, leaving seats open for black girls, and their historical magic.
Later in the conference we were given journals and time to write, with the two queries posed to us were:
“What are stories we tell about black women? What are stories we tell about ourselves?”
“What are our relationships to labor? What are our relationships to labor as it relates to capitalism?”
It’s hard to notice your own gradual growth. The way our hair and nails lengthen each day. The way our bodies, over time, get taller, then harder, then softer. It often takes a friend we see only occasionally to notice and bring awareness to our growth, like the fabled line most aunties sing “my, have you grown!”.
Likewise I don’t often see the growth of my truck. The way her roof sags with weather, the stains from long hours in the sun, the chipping and bumps. Aging can go equally unnoticed in our everyday spaces. Hand in hand with the inevitable and unnoticed signs of aging comes a glorified beauty forged through trialed wisdom. I often don’t take time to notice how incredibly tall and bright and brave my truck (and myself) has gotten over the last three years. For me, it is the comment from the friend visiting from afar who only sees my truck a few times a year that allows me to see what they see.
Let’s compare the truck’s growth directly to one of its most recent and obvious changes; the service window. It started as scraps of doors I found at the Loading Dock, installed by RV mechanics, painted fresh and looking sharp. Three years into it, weathered and swollen with rain, mushrooms growing from the cracks, paint fading it was time for a change. Little Debbie’s old wooden shutters have been replaced with a big metal frame, welded by myself, installed and calculated with the help of a friend, with the wisdom to design in an awning (Maryland’s rainy y’all!) and a way to dedicate part of the window into menu boards. GROWTH.
Recently, I have been offering consulting to individuals interested in trialing a pop-up or mobile business who are looking for applicable guidance on how to get started. It occurred to me to offer this sliding scale service when I sat down with a local free business consultant and felt surprised at how out of touch his business advice was relative to the in’s and out’s of this mobile industry. Things like navigating the health department, shopping for an event, day-of logistics are all second nature to me now. My point in saying this is not to end on a brag, I’m saying this because it is powerful.
I believe it is important to recognize and respect the power you hold when you have truly learned how to do something; in part so that you can begin to find ways you can share that power. At Visionary Night, a recent event hosted by Carleen of Le Monade, someone shared an important message. If you have access, hold the door open. Sharing information can help us share power and shift the inequity in this city. Do you feel yourself leaning into the fear that sharing hard earned knowledge will allow others to surpass you? Fight it. In my experience, I’ve only seen shared knowledge returned with gratitude and more sharing.
Last fall the truck was broken into, which forced me to reach out to my community for help, which moved my truck to a metal shop in Highlandtown, which connected me to a seasoned welder and architect. Through his generosity and skill sharing, I was able to learn how to weld and repair my unsteady doors, giving my truck new security and a fresh makeover. I am extremely grateful for the lessons in community and growth that I have been able to experience as I build in Baltimore. I plan to continue to sharpen my skills so that I can share some of what I learn, in hopes to share with you, Baltimore. So that one day you can have a fleet of beautifully tricked out trucks to roll throughout our neighborhoods sharing good food and skills and the power to change things for the better.
To track our menu tells a story.
Kiah built the Summer 2017 menu as a collection of her personal food story. It was influenced by her farming, a hospitable Greek family, a small kitchen in Mexico City, Montessori gardens in Nashville; different comfort foods learned in home kitchens that had welcomed her in and taught her how to tinker and cut and improvise and salt. She developed her first menu from food she loved.
She shared it with her friends.
They made art out of her initial ideas.
The seasons changed, and so did the menu. Leaving behind sun ripened fruits for the warming flavors of her Czech roots, she adapted the menu to fit around what was seasonally available.
The truck played it’s roll, we learned it’s powers and limitations and eventually mastered our tiny kitchen. We were able to make food better, and more of it.
Then spring brought freshness, and with that a new menu again.
If summer was a chipotle chickpea based falafel, and winter was a borsht inspired rice ball, well, then spring was the evolution, the marriage of the two, to form our fried tabouli balls.
And so it goes.
It would be daft to narrate this story without the characters in it. And while food and our truck played a roll in defining and creating Wilde Thyme, it couldn’t have happened without our dedicated team.
To start a business is not easy. To share an idea and interrupt spaces and patterns in the food industry is not easy. To work 15hr shifts back to back on our feet in a tiny hot metal box, is not easy. The evolving crew I have been so fortunate enough to work with show up, and show out. They are powerful, they are creative, they are geniuses, and cheerleaders, and growers, and feeders. They’ve kept it going, they’ve evolved it, they’ve made it sustainable, they’ve made it possible. They have surprised me, they have made my heart explode, they have made me laugh, and they have made you food. They’re incredible, and Wilde Thyme is incredible because of them.
Starting this business I dreamed it could support local food systems, I dreamed it could take part in a conversation around where and how (and for how much $) food travels through this city, I dreamed of interrupting stagnant and oppressive spaces, I dreamed of filling bellies, of teaching recipes, and of creating a community.
In just one year we have touched on all of that. And while I could gripe and groan about the bruises along the way, I am not here to give that attention. I am here, with the support of the community we have built, to continue what we have started, to evolve and address the complexities of the food system in new and improved ways, with continued creativity, tougher skin, and a growing veracity. We made it through a year of business. HECK YEA. And we are here for year two.
Jack & Zach’s is a ‘snug joint focusing on locally sourced, housemade sausage sandwiches & veggie patties’, located on 333 N. Charles Street.
The 12 seat diner has always been one of Kiah’s favorite places to eat delicious locally sourced and crafted foods in Baltimore. Kiah has known Zach and Jack from way back when, and since they opened their restaurant back in 2012, she has seen them develop and adapt their business through the years, staying true to their original mission of sourcing the freshest local ingredients. They have been an inspiration to Kiah as well as a support in providing insight that has helped in launching her own small food business, Wilde Thyme. Everything from letting Kiah shadow in their kitchen to sharing resources on where they source locally to simply grabbing a drink at the end of a long work day and shooting the shit.
We are so excited to be developing our menu to include their housemade sausage. We’re always looking for ways to create mutually beneficial relationships with other small businesses in this city. We encourage everyone who has enjoyed our food and our model to check out Jack & Zach food.
Emma Reisinger, who was part of our opening season staff, has launched her own local business focused on sustainable food. Emma, the head farmer of the newly established Yellow House Farm, brought so much insight (and produce!) to our truck last summer, 2017. We are so pleased to see her kicking off her first official CSA season this year and we wanted to highlight her and her farm in our May Newsletter. Emma gives a little background into the launch of her farm in the article below.
Yellow House Farm started from the seemingly very simple idea that I wanted to grow food. I wanted to grow for myself, for my friends, for my family, for my neighbors, and for the places where I worked as a cook. I like feeding people, whether that’s through preparing meals or the slightly less direct route of preparing garden beds.
This year I’m thrilled to be farming full-time, launching Yellow House Farm in Cedmont, a small neighborhood on the East side. Although the growing season is (at long last) just taking off, the past few seasons have been helpful for preparation: building a greenhouse over the winter and slowly but surely converting the namesake yellow house’s lawn into vegetable beds. Now everybody’s growing: the seedlings, the chicks, the beehives.
Since it the first year, I’m focusing on building systems and soils. In 2018, I’m growing favorite annual vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers, kale, cucumbers, okra, arugula, spinach, Swiss chard, collard greens, eggplant, and more. I’m also planting loads of small fruits and perennials so that in future years I’ll be able to offer an abundance of asparagus, rhubarb, horseradish, figs, and berries (strawberries! blackberries! raspberries! elderberries!).
I’m looking forward to the start of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) season in May. While my CSA is full this year, you can find some of my veggies, herbs, and flowers with BearFoot Farm at the Lauraville Market on Tuesdays starting in June. More than anything else, I am grateful to be able to work outside every day and follow the rhythms of sun and rain.
If you’d like to follow the progress of the farm or would like to get in touch, I post updates on Instagram regularly (@yellowhousefarmbaltimore) and am easily accessible via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
As someone whose passion for food came through farming, I am always trying to find ways back to the farm.
I started building Wilde Thyme at the end of 2016, and between building the truck, teaching myself on a steep learning curve how to run a small business, and operating the truck for half a year, I proactively planned in some time to reflect and relax after the whirlwind first season with the truck.
As part of that reflection and relaxation process I was interested in finding a way to incorporate 1) saying ‘hey’ to the sun mid-winter for survival purposes, 2) getting my hands dirty on a farm, and 3) trying a food I’d never had before. As it happens, I have a dear friend Luiza who is in her first year of starting a small business, a farm, in the state of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
Luiza and I met 4 years ago on a farm in Argentina. We were both beginning farmers interested in learning about biointensive farming (a style of farming that maximizes the ratio of product to space through planting and fertilizing techniques, great for small or urban farms). We found friendship on a farm called CIESA outside of El Bólson. Between broken spanish, long hours weeding, and cold spring nights we became fast friends, and it felt easy reaching out to her despite the time and distance between when we last connected.
Luiza is starting a huge farming project on 14 hectares of newly acquired land. Luiza is developing her new farm by using agroforestry, or syntropic agriculture, practices she learned from Ernst Gotsch in Brasília. Agroforestry is a style of agriculture that emphasizes the cultivation and conservation of trees. It focuses on the importance of trees as a staple on the farm, and you build and design your farm around your intended forest. The diverse types of trees not only provide wood, fruit, nuts, and seeds but they also act as a base provider of shade and cut and drop compost. The trees are actively helping soil as well as dramatically changing the micro-climate of your farm, allowing you to plant more diverse produce in the rows at the base of your trees. For more information about this farming practice you can watch a short youtube video here.
Luiza and her partner João were in the beginning stages of their farm working largely on getting the details right in order to start up a long-standing sustainable farm. Aside from mapping out the property and discovering obstacles (like a dried riverbed!), they were collecting local seeds and clearing patches in order to start planting some of the slower-to-cultivate trees (like Açai and Mango).
It was an absolute pleasure to witness the start of this project, and I hope to continue to watch as their farm grows. Aside from the wealth of knowledge I gained about this farming practice, I appreciated the time I got to spend with Luiza, speaking broken languages, and eating too many mangoes in the hot sun talking about how hard and confusing and lonely it can feel to start a business based around something you’re passionate about. Despite our businesses being based in different countries, and focused on different stages of food development, and our different languages, we were able to fully understand the common experience we were sharing of starting something new and hard based on our shared passion and values for how food is cultivated and shared in our big world. And it’s moment like this, that a lone business owner doesn’t feel as lost or mystified about why she started a little truck in Baltimore.
And a note on Brazilian food- it’s diverse- because Brazil is huge! So it was hard to get a full grasp of all the country had to offer in just a few weeks. I focused on street food in Rio, state specialties that you were able to access in the city, and a few local ingredients that I had never heard of. I am continually in awe of how and what people sell on the street or out of mobile carts (or on foot!). I felt inspired to see the melting pot of cuisines as well as the traditional foods from across the entire country that you could access in Rio (so much of the world seems to have their version of a doughy street dumpling!). Some of what I saw and tasted directly influenced our spring menu (spinach and lamb Kibe, a Levantine dish made of bulgur, minced onions, and finely ground lean beef, lamb, goat, or camel meat with Middle Eastern spices, often baked as small pastries you could grab quickly just about anywhere), and other ideas will appear as specials or as part of our summer menu. For now, I will leave you with some documented highlights:
I found myself buying a last minute ticket to Austin after our first official food truck season had come to a close. The selling points were visiting some friends, a break from Debbie (my truck), and sunshine.
That was how little I knew about Austin. Grant it, I got the friendship part right. But what I didn’t expect was how much inspiration I would garner from the food truck scene in Austin, Debbie was almost constantly on my mind. My trip away quickly became a business trip where I dedicated most of my time to following my stomach on a tour around the city, stopping to look closely at truck menus, their set-up, eat their food, and occasionally talk to their owner’s.
First up was Veracruz All Natural. A kitchen on a school bus, serving up delicious breakfast tacos, including Austin’s favorite Migas. The beauty of Migas is that it takes day-old tortillas, mixes them with eggs, and BOOM! You have a brand new, delicious, breakfast meal! I am always thinking about how to reduce food waste, and I think recipes that can take something a day old and make it sparkling new, is utter genius. One of my favorite cook books, Prune, dedicates an entire section of the cookbook to demystifying how to use products that might otherwise be waste. In addition to recycling tortillas, Veracruz is set up on a used school bus. The ultimate dream. When I originally got started with shopping for a truck to build out I looked for a school bus. My interest in having an education component for the business mission made a school bus seem like the perfect fit. I quickly found out that it violated the size limit for trucks in Maryland, but was brought back to my initial day dreams while eyeing the awesome kitchen on the Veracruz bus.
Next up was East Side King. The East Side King has expanded to several trucks and brick and mortar, so their hustle alone is inspiring. I went to the original location tucked discreetly behind The Liberty, a dive bar with an open patio in the back. A lot of bars in Austin have open air patios in the back, creating a symbiotic working relationship with trucks. If a dive bar can find an influential truck to change the game, and a truck can find ample room with private picnic tables and a constant stream of people- that’s a win-win. This model doesn’t quite work for Baltimore, since it’s not an ‘al fresco’ city. But it did get me thinking about the collaborations trucks have with local breweries like Union and Monument. My heart also sang for their beet homefries. You know a girl swoons when she’s sees someone taking an unpopular vegetable and making something delicious with it.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Austin without a stop at one BBQ joint. We went to Micklethwait Craft Meats. They are on a stand alone lot, with three trailers hitched together like a train. One for service, and two to contain their enormous smokers. Their meats fell off the bone, and their sides were tweaked ever so slightly from the classics to make your mouth giggle with delight. There was a liquor store a block over, and while they couldn’t serve drinks, you could BYOB, taking this casual sit down picnic to an eatery you could really linger at.
Last, and by no means least was Patrizi’s. A true Italian restaurant featuring homemade pasta, local ingredients, and baseball sized meatballs. I spent the most time at Patrizi’s, as the owner and manager were both around to generously give me a behind the scenes tour and swap stories about our relative experiences. Their homestyle eatery and emphasis on slow food were really inspiring and refreshing, seeing as in Baltimore it would seem to be a business flaw to slow your street food down to take more than five minutes. They talked about how their boom in popularity caused wait times of up to an hour and how they remedied that in their business, since speed is a constant concern on wheels (whether you’re mobile or not). They also had a Front of House person, and I don’t just mean a friendly face in the window to take your order. They had one person dedicated to talking you through the menu, explaining Italian words that might be over your head, helping you to make the best choice- and then they brought you your food to your picnic table. This truck was drawing outside the lines, and I was into it. Why put “food trucks” in one box, we don’t treat brick and mortar all the same?
A few weeks ago a friend sent me an article titled “No Longer Trendy, Food Trucks Facing Declining Revenue Find Ways to Survive”. And arguably it’s true, food trends ebb and flow, trendy donuts chomped on cupcakes, as pop-ups have gobbled up trucks. While it could be argued that Baltimore is not nearly as saturated as D.C., or Austin, it is still important to keep a pulse on what is trendy. The surge in food truck popularity was largely influenced by the low initial investment and overhead cost, partnered with the classic “restaurant model” failing in our economy. While trucks trend out, Wilde Thyme is here to stay. The most impressive take away from my time in Austin was the teamwork. Whether it’s a truck partnering with a bar, a theater, or, like the image above, each other (in a fenced off lot with a stage, a garden, communal picnic tables!!), they have found one common way to survive in a saturated industry. Teamwork makes the dream work. We can’t sit pretty on the corner of S. Charles and Baltimore and think that things will always be the same. Because if there is one guarantee, it’s that they won’t be. We need to reach out to our neighbors, our industry brothers and sisters, our theaters, and our rec centers, and we need to talk about how our communal efforts will become the most sustainable trend the food industry, and our communities, have seen yet.
To our beautiful and supportive community,
A year ago on December 15th, 2016, I acquired Little Debbie, the food truck.
From December through March I was zipping around to “see a guy about a thing”; buying used equipment, trusting craigslist strangers to sell me things in good condition, touring auction houses and restaurant supply stores, spending copious amounts of time driving to and from an RV store, and recruiting my friends to taste test recipes and make art and magic and dreams in the empty truck. I was hardly alone throughout the building. Support from Cat (@naturallychefcat) and that Baltimore Chef Alliance helped put into perspective the shared experiences we were going through as different parts of the same Baltimore food scene, making me feel less alone from the very beginning.
From April through June I was navigating the health department. This was where the help from other food truck owners and small businesses, part time jobs, and old friends cheers, became essential to survival. The echoed warnings to not start a food business rung in my ears as I shuffled between government buildings. The line the first rule of food trucks is: don’t start a food truck, which had been told to me on multiple accounts, was stuck in my head as I sat impatiently in different waiting rooms for the right slips of paper. But we painted the truck as though it was a community barn raising, and no one around me lost site. And in the spring Little Debbie budded into Wilde Thyme.
Then came dream team A, the first Wilde Thyme squad, and the steady hand of Wilde Thyme’s first season as we went live in Baltimore. I could write poetry about these women and it would fall somewhere between a hero’s ballad and a love letter. They witnessed soft openings, small fires, days where we sold food to five people, days where we served hundreds, our first festival, our second festival, our third festival, new specials, new produce, new farms, new partners, new systems, old mistakes, my tears, self care dates, new ideas, new art, and new neighborhoods.
As we head into our first winter with Wilde Thyme, I want to take time to celebrate all the hero’s that have contributed to this small business in its first year! Anyone who ate our food, anyone who cooked are food, anyone who grew our food, anyone who helped with advice, or offered a shoulder to cry on when it was hard, and anyone that took time to help me remember to celebrate the little triumphs along the way.
This city is built up of small businesses and creative makers, so if you find yourself wanting to celebrate the successes of your year, please join forces with us for our Holiday Party (aka Little Debbie’s Bday!):