Valee met with Brandon, Josh, and Abby Huggins at Taylor Fish Farm, a business in Cedar Grove of which he is the co-owner. His family gave the original land for Anathoth Garden, which is just down the road from the fish farm. Here is a short excerpt from the interview.
Valee: In Cedar Grove when I was younger, it was an agri-community, basically all farming. We went through the Civil Rights movement. I went through integration. I’ve had KKK stop my bus and beat me up for trying to get a decent education. My father fought in the military and this time I was struggling to get a decent education. I’ve had crosses burning in my yard. I’ve been shot at by the Ku Klux Klan. That’s how it was during my younger years. I guess until I was about in Junior High. And then I played sports and I excelled at football and that kind of bridged the gap a little with the community. And, then I went to Carolina, got an education.
Brandon: Can you expand a little bit on what it was like during the Civil Rights time?
Valee: Very hard, very frightening. Hold meetings. Your parents meeting. Parents had to follow you in caravans on the bus, to make sure you didn’t get accosted going to school. It was real scary. Scary to go to the mailbox. But you have strong parents to keep pushing you forward. It was cause you got shot at today, you still got to go back out there tomorrow.
I guess in my early 20’s I tried to farm, I went down to the FSA and tried to get a loan and I had a different way of farming, but it was still agri-tobacco related. I’m a fourth generation tobacco farmer and I was denied my loan. I appealed it. My loan officer took my idea. He quit and he’s now, he’s doing what I said I would do. I was able to recover some of it back through, I was one of the original members of the Black Farmers Lawsuit. Those are the kind of things I did to kind of get over the hurdles. Is go back and, you know, make people stand an account for things they’d done. And by the way, a person, one of the Ku Klux Klan members that did beat me up, came back and apologized to me about ten years ago.
Josh: Oh wow.
Valee: I thought that was a powerful move.
Josh: Did you recognize him when he…
Valee: Oh yeah, I knew exactly. The sheet don’t fool. Everybody didn’t have the sheets on.
Valee: A lot of them just were bare faced. I knew exactly who it was. A small community, it gets out. You know, they have Afro Americans working in their fields. You know that travels, so you know exactly who beat you up. Yeah, but that was very powerful when he came and apologized to me, my sister and my mother.
Valee: About what he did. You know, I accepted it, and I moved on. People change, believe it or not. I had to learn that too.
Valee: We, you know, y’all are old enough, you’re young and old enough to know that food has a lot to do with how you, how you feel. And a person, you want them to develop spiritually, but it's hard when they’re going home to no running water. And you know, no electricity. And eating a barely getting by substance. You know, you, we can, and then you know you have them believing in the here and after, I’m going to get my reward. And why can’t we help them a little bit right now? Why should they have to struggle? There’s ways we can get people out of these situations.
But you know you have to work with them you have to put in some time. And you know, most people we have this idea that a person is downtrodden because he’s lazy. You see some of the hardest working people out here that don’t have anything. You pass a white cinderblock building on this road right here that you pass everyday. That boy don’t have any running water, no electricity. What he has to do to cool off is sit outside. And he works hard everyday in tobacco.
And that’s right on this main road. And we all pass it. And we put a blind eye to it. And that’s something that I’ve been charging Anathoth lately to go out and seek more of these people and put, you know. Cause a lot of people have, believe it or not, they still have pride. You know, so you can’t just say, we’re here, he won’t come, because he does have pride. He falls through the cracks. He cannot get food stamps, he doesn’t have a place to cook. So, he basically eats out of a store. But those are the people I push the church to reach out to.
Get your feet wet, you know what I mean? Its not just my story now, its your story. Anathoth is doing great. But we still, that’s right on the road coming to Anathoth. We need to learn how to reach out. A little bit deeper, it's not over. This hunger thing is real. You live in one of the richest counties in North Carolina. One of the richest counties in the United States. And, this northern part of North Caro- of Orange County, you have a lot of people that are poor. So we’re really trying to get to the people that actually fall through the cracks.
I think you’re one of the more successful CSAs or community gardens out here. You’ve had 10 years, going on your 11th year. And now, see, where you’re at, you're able to pay incomes to your workers. I think, the way, y’all have done a lot of work here. And you’ve inspired a lot of gardens, a lot of communities have copied you. That was the mission, was to get people to start, you know, relating food, you know, to church.
Cause they’re complex problems. Food is not simple. it is very complex. And we’re, Anathoth is just starting to scratch the surface, but you’re doing a great job, a great job.