Watch Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia: “Foraging and Relations”

On Wednesday, August 18 at noon EST on the American Folklife Center’s Facebook page, we premiered our first film in the Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia series, featuring Dr. Jonathan Hall on foraging and relations. 

In the video, West Virginia filmmakers, farmers, and chefs Mike Costello and Amy Dawson will be joined by fellow hunter and forager Jonathan Hall as they sustainably harvest ramps, morels, oyster mushrooms, and more. Like the Black fishers, hunters, and foragers recorded for the AFC by Mary Hufford in Harlem Heights in the 1990s, Jonathan reflects on the experience of being a Black outdoorsman hunting and foraging in virtually all-white spaces in rural West Virginia, discussing how racism has created unique barriers to entry to the practice of outdoor foodways traditions in Appalachia. 

Dr. Jonathan Hall forages in the woods of northern West Virginia

As a teacher to his friends, to his children, and professionally, as a biology professor at Eastern Michigan University (formerly at West Virginia University), Jonathan uses wild food to educate about the conservation of the resources that sustain us, informed by the ethos of “relations” that has guided Indigenous communities for thousands of years before white settlers arrived in Appalachia. The film adds to existing documentation in the AFC archival collections on ramp harvesting and mushroom foraging, as well as the experiences of Black hunters, fishers, and foragers in West Virginia.

In addition to scenes of Hall and his family foraging in the hills of northern West Virginia, Hall also prepares his version of the Zambian dish nshima and relish—a cooked cornmeal cake and meat and tomato-based stew—which his parents learned to cook during their time serving in the Peace Corps. His variation includes local West Virginia heritage ingredients both wild and cultivated, such as salt trout, heirloom tomatoes, bloody butcher cornmeal, lambsquarters, and venison sausage (made from deer harvested by Costello and Hall).

Jonathan Hall’s nshima and relish prepared with local West Virginia heritage ingredients

This film is first in the AFC’s Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia film series program, a series of four films produced by Mike Costello and Amy Dawson of Lost Creek Farm, with support from the West Virginia Folklife Program at the West Virginia Humanities Council. The films, which explore a range of food traditions in the state, will premiere on the AFC’s Facebook page at noon EST on Wednesday, August 18, Wednesday, September 1, and Wednesday, September 15 (double feature), with a culminating discussion panel on Thursday, September 30th at 1pm EST), which you can register for here.  Learn more about the series here, and we hope you join us!

Homegrown Foodways in West Virginia Film Series: “Foraging and Relations” with Dr. Jonathan Hall

Find the Library of Congress archival record here.

Adapted from a blog post on the American Folklife Center’s Folklife Today.