Are Suffolk’s farming roots changing?

Published 10:17 pm Friday, March 16, 2018

By QuaWanna Bannarbie

Suffolk is changing.

I got lost the first time I visited the city. Somehow, I ended up on Carolina Road when I should have been on Godwin Boulevard. I did not follow directions, and I did not have GPS in my car at the time. This experience happened before cell phones had Google Maps. I can try to explain it away, but I really think I got lost on the drive because I became distracted by the fields of cotton on my way to my friend’s house.


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You see, I am a Georgia girl. I grew up in rural Georgia, where rows of corn stalks and collard greens are familiar to young, brown-faced girls like me. I love the smell of farmland after a good rain. At the moment that I saw those cotton fields, I was home.

I came to Virginia on orders to a ship based in Norfolk, after I had served two years in Yokosuka, Japan. At the time that I first made the acquaintance of this rich farm area, I thought of Suffolk as my “getaway.” I worked in Norfolk, and I was surrounded by “the military life.” The cotton and agriculture I saw in Suffolk appealed to me. It should be no surprise that soon after that lost experience, I made the decision to purchase my first home in Suffolk. I’ve been here ever since. I started my family here. My children are educated here. I am a member of this community.

The headline this week read, “Suffolk to say goodbye to Farm Fresh.” For me, those words are not only referring to a grocery store chain. It is my humble opinion that Suffolk is saying goodbye to its green roots in agriculture.

Like many people, I loved Farm Fresh for its fried chicken and salad bar. I love salad. I call myself a “salad queen.” Be it pasta salad, fruit salad, garden salad or potato salad, I am your girl. I do it all. I love green. It is not my favorite color, but I love tasting and seeing green, especially from my garden.

Years ago I started gardening. I am still a novice, but I love growing my own food. I must say there is nothing like harvesting fresh vegetation from your own backyard. When I first decided to start a backyard garden, I was met with skepticism from some neighbors who said, “nothing grows near the Dismal Swamp.” But I know that Suffolk became a thriving city in large part because of its crops. I know that Suffolk was once known for having several farming families and communities. It was because of the beautifully maintained courtyard garden at Oakland Elementary School that I started my own garden. It took me back to days walking those rows behind my Aunt Nancy, Grandma Fannie and my mother in Georgia. I love gardening. It has changed my life, and it has made me appreciate freshness.

More and more families are adopting plant-based lifestyles and nutritional plans. Am I the only one who sees meaning in that a grocery store title that represents green living (Farm Fresh) is being overtaken by another one that has a carnivorous predator as its mascot (Food Lion)? We should be asking ourselves what to make of the change, especially for those families who have long established their legacy of farming in Suffolk.

Green is a dominant color. Although it is formed by two primary colors, green is all around us. Can you imagine if we lived in the land of Dr. Seuss’ Lorax? Our ground and trees would be orange. Green gives our neighborhoods a fresh coat of color in the spring. Green is the first color mentioned in the Bible in the first chapter of Genesis, verse 30. Green represents life. Green represents rebirth. Green represents new seed and new beginnings.

Today is St. Patrick’s Day, and we are dressed in our favorite hues of emerald and mint. After this weekend is over, it is my hope that we take some time to think about the life in the herbs and seed-bearing plants. Our community’s history is of cultivating land and the importance of crops for our development. Changes in farming equipment have changed the outlook for agriculture, but it should not have to change how dinner gets to your table. Your local grocer is just one way. Your backyard is another. The best thing about growing in your garden is that you know it is fresh because you picked it yourself. Even if you start small, start growing something. It is good for you.

QuaWanna Bannarbie is an adjunct professor of Nonprofit Leadership and Management with Indiana Wesleyan University, National and Global. Her children attend Suffolk Public Schools. Connect with her via Twitter @QNikki_Notes.