This is Black History Month in the United States. It started me thinking about justice, for people and the environment.

Can we learn from the earliest agricultural workers? Are there Southern crops and techniques that we’ll need as climate change develops? Yes on all counts. This dig into an unreported scene will work for listeners in every country.

We’ve got two fabulous guides. Michael W. Twitty is a culinary historian of African and African American foodways. He’s just returned from his "Southern Discomfort" tour of the former slave states, living and recording those important self-sufficient ways of growing and cooking food, from seeds through open fire cooking.

Twitty tells us about two climate-ready crops imported from Africa, that need to move from your bird feeder to your dinner plate.

Our Washington correspondent Gerri Williams, with her own expertise at the College of Agriculture, sits down with Michael Twitty. This is one of my favorite interviews this year. Twitty is down-to-earth, entertaining, and passing on what he learns.


Why not farm in the city?

Our guest is a Harvard Grad with plenty of big-time qualifications in both industrial and organic agriculture. K. Rashid Nuri worked a dozen years with the world food giant Cargill. He served four years in the Clinton Administration, in the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as the Deputy Administrator of the Farm Service Agency and Foreign Agricultural Service. Right now, in Atlanta Georgia, Rashid leads an inspiring urban food farm called "Truly Living Well".

Right in Atlanta, Truly Living Well farms donated land in various plots. They sell top quality produce to high end restaurants, providing more than a dozen jobs for folks who really need the work. Truly Living Well also supplements food for the needy, either at low cost, or even free to those who need it.

We’re learning from the survivors, from the deep south, during Black American History Month 2013. I’m Alex Smith. We all want to be survivors, so let’s learn from those who know.

I spent some time doing Google searches about African American farming. Almost all of what I found was about history. In 1920 about 14% of U.S. farmers were African American, but by 2007 that dropped to 2%. What happened to the African American farmer?

According to Will Scott, president of the African American Farmers of California, in that agricultural superstate, out of 81,000 farmers, only 400 are African Americans. The African American Farmers of California run a 15-acre demonstration and education farm to interest African-American kids in agriculture.

It seems pretty obvious there was an ugly twist to farming in the history of African Americans and that was share-cropping. For many, it must have an act of liberty just to get away from those farms.

Then it turns out the U.S. Department of Agriculture was turning down farm loans to thousands of black farmers, while giving them to whites. And that wasn’t back in the 1950’s. We’re talking as recently as the 1980’s and ’90’s. A 1.2 billion dollar settlement was finally agreed in 2011. Rashid Nuri is exceptionally well informed on all this, and says it’s not satisfactory. A lot of the money goes to lawyers, and people who lost their farms were not fairly compensated. It is known as the "Pigford" case.

One way this discrimination worked: a "good farmer" (likely white and connected) got their loans for planting the year’s new crop in January when it was needed. "Others" (mostly black and Hispanic farmers) didn’t get their loans processed until it was too late to plant, say in April or May. But they put their farms up as security, and risked losing the land itself, not to mention the harvest they needed to keep on going.

Rashid Nuri spoke at the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference. Some really shocking statistics came out of that. Let me quote a couple:

"Nearly 50% of African American children will develop diabetes at some point in their lives.

About four out of five African American women are overweight or obese.

In 2007, African Americans were 1.4 times as likely to be obese as Non- Hispanic Whites.

Deaths from heart disease and stroke are almost twice the rate for African Americans as compared to Whites."

Just out in the news this past month, is research showing the so-called "Southern diet" is actually lethal. Getting real fresh veggies into the southern diet can literally save lives.

Michelle Obama planted a garden at the White House. She congratulated Walmart when that company announced they would start selling fresh vegetables. But Nuri wonders how "organic" Walmat food is, when it travels all the way from polluted China.

We also discuss whether drought-resistant varieties, that can take the heat, may be needed further north, as climate change becomes worse. Nuri cautions against using genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) saying our digestive system has not evolved to handle them properly.

Get ready to learn about adapting to climate change, protecting your own food health, southern living, and the struggle for economic justice.

We open the program with the song "Down in Mississippi". It is Mavis Staples, singing about her own life, from the album "We’ll Never Turn Back". The song includes the guitar-work of producer Ry Cooder. We also play a selection from "Mississippi Flatlands" by artist Memphis Gold. He’s from Tennessee, but is now living in Washington D.C. I really appreciate his style. The song is from the album "Pickin’ in High Cotton" on Stackhouse Records.