Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food. In honor of the SFA's featured oral history project, Women Who Farm: Georgia, we’re sharing “She Spoke and I Listened” by Sara Wood, the group's oral historian.
The evening I met Haylene Green, an urban farmer in Atlanta, Georgia, rain mercilessly poured on midtown Atlanta—and on me. I squeaked across the lobby of Ms. Green’s apartment building and followed her to a small room in the basement. There, she opened a thick photo album with pages of fruits and vegetables from her West End community garden. And she started talking. I put the recording equipment together as fast as I’ve ever assembled it. My job was simple: She spoke, and I listened. All of her answers were stories.
Speaking of his book "The Storied South" on a radio program, folklorist Bill Ferris recently said something that stopped me in my kitchen: “When you ask a Southerner to answer a question, they will tell a story. And embedded in that story is the information that they feel is the answer to the question.”
Oral history, like the most satisfying literature, relies on listening and observation. The way people speak, how they tell stories, where they choose to pause and scratch their nose, to me, is the greatest part of listening. Being an oral historian or a writer requires you to listen as though your life depends on it. What seems like a simple acts is actually the heart of the work. To that end, I share an excerpt from my interview with a farmer who also happens to be a storyteller.
Haylene Green’s Story