The Needy and the Stranger

Now, when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and the stranger.

Leviticus 19:9-10


My favorite part of Ammie Jenkins’ Healing from the Land is the last chapter, where she describes a tradition of older African Americans endeavoring to live up to Leviticus’s call to share one’s harvest with “the needy and the stranger.”

One of the gentlemen she visited in the Sandhills, Kermit Brower, grew several vegetable gardens and gave away most of his produce to friends, family and the needy.

Robert “Shag” Jones, now deceased, did the same.

“Some people thought I was crazy,” Jones told Ammie, “but nothing makes me happier than to go out to my garden, pick a whole bunch of collards and beans and such, load up my pick-up truck and drive around to different people and just leave some things on their door step. They don’t need to know who did it…. I just wanted to do it. It made me feel good.”

SFHA volunteers and N.C. A&T partnered to expand the group's community gardens.

SFHA volunteers and N.C. A&T partnered to expand the group’s community gardens. Courtesy, Sandhills Family Heritage Association

Another Sandhills Family Heritage Association publication focuses on the community’s tradition of gleaning. That one is titled the “Sankofa Gardening and Gleaning Project in the North Carolina Sandhills” and describes a community project that matched young Sandhills residents with elderly gardeners to learn more about the local tradition of growing and sharing food.

“The more they gave away, they more bountiful their gardens became”

The reminiscences of one of the younger people, Sheila King Spence, capture the spirit of that tradition.

“As a little girl,” Mrs. Spence writes, “I remember going with my mom to pick corn from Mr. Howard McGregor’s cornfield, collard greens from Miss Liza Bonnie and Miss Lucy’s gardens, and every year my Dad brought home sweet potatoes from Mr. Walter Elliott’s field.”

Mrs. Spence considered those older farmers and gardeners “true philanthropists.” To her “it seemed as though the more they gave away, the more bountiful their gardens became.”

Her neighbors still provide for those in need.

“Today,” Mrs. Spence writes, “people like Odell Cameron, Luther McDougald and Cecil Lucas still carry on the gleaning tradition. They love the land and enjoy producing fresh fruits and vegetables. Once harvest time comes, they either open up their gardens [to those in need of food] or actually take the crops to various individuals in the community. The most amazing concept is that these people expect nothing in return for their efforts.”

Inspired by her neighbors’ generosity, Mrs. Spence and her children continue the tradition by gleaning sweet potatoes and strawberries and giving them away. No wonder that Ammie Jenkins feels so strongly that African American traditions in the Sandhills have much to teach us.

A Pat of Butter and a Loving Heart

Here is one of several recipes from Ammie Jenkins’ pamphlet on gardening and looking out for one’s community. This one came from Josephine McRae Robisch of Spring Lake.

Jo’s Buttermilk Cornbread

Self-Rising Corn Meal

¼ stick of melted butter (I like the real thing)

1 egg beaten

1 pinch of sugar (optional)


 I cook the way Mama did, that is, no measurement of ingredients.

The first thing I do is sift the corn meal into a bowl. That makes the cornbread lighter. Then add a pinch of sugar, and stir in melted butter, lightly beaten egg, and buttermilk until the mixture is the consistency of pancake batter.

Pour batter into greased pan. Bake in a preheated oven at 450 degrees until nice and brown (approximately 25-30 minutes). Cut in 3-inch squares and serve with a pat of butter and a loving heart.

Sweet Tea (may she rest in peace) in one of my recent gardens!

Sweet Tea (may he rest in peace) in one of my recent gardens. Or maybe Biscuit– they looked a lot alike! Photo by David Cecelski

 * * *

This story originally appeared in my food blog for the N.C. Folklife Institute in 2008. 

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