Gullah Geechee’s Traditions of Farm-to-Fork Cuisine

Co-Owner of Strong Roots, Matthew Raiford, speaks about his Gullah Geechee heritage

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Imagine not being able to feed yourself or your family because you cannot buy seeds to plant in your garden and growing your own food is your only option. That was the reality for many generations of Gullah Geechee people. They were not sold any seeds to plant in their gardens and they could not buy chemicals, so they ended up practicing what is now called organic farming before it was cool and even before it was referred to that way.

Matthew Raiford, author, speaker, farmer, chef and co-owner of Strong Roots cooked for the Armstrong campus in the Student Union ballroom on Wednesday, Nov. 17. He made “Effie’s Shrimp Gumbo.” As he cooked, Raiford talked about

He keeps the traditions of Gullah Geechee heritage and cuisine alive but with his added twists on his family recipes. Society’s relationship with food has become about convenience rather than sustainability. The mission behind Strong Roots is to change that relationship to one that uses the holistic approach to farming that Raiford ancestors used.

Raiford’s great-great-great-grandfather, Jupiter Gillard, purchased what is now Gillard Farms in Brunswick, Ga over 150 years ago, and the land has been in the family for seven generations.

After high school, Raiford spent time in the military and graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where he met his now wife, Tia McDonald, for the first time. In 2010, his grandma gave his sister, Althea Raiford and him the deed to Gilliard Farms, so Raiford moved back home and together with his sister began revitalizing the land and creating “an authentic farm-to-fork experience for locals.” Raiford opened The Farmer and the Larder on Newcastle Street in 2015 with his partner Jovan Sage.

Raiford was a self-finalist in the 2018 James Beard Awards Best Chef in the Southeast category. He travels around the country speaking at food and wine festivals and was even a speaker at TEDxSavannah. He has also been featured in publications such as Southern Living, The New York Times, and Savannah Magazine.

Currently, Raiford is working on a children’s book about three children who want to work in the culinary industry in some way, even though their parents do not think it will bring in enough money . One child wants to be a food policy lawyer, one wants to work in robotics and one wants to be a chef.

Students can find signed copies of his cookbook, “Bress ‘n’ Nyam: Gullah Geechee Recipes from a Sixth-Generation Farmer,” in The Book Lady Bookstore or they can purchase a copy on Amazon or Apple Books.