Farming was at the heart of Kendleton, Texas, when the tiny community was established more than a century and a half ago. After the Civil War ended in 1865, formerly enslaved Americans purchased plots from a plantation owner to harvest cotton, corn, and wheat, and to grow produce for their families. But over the years the farmland has been increasingly dedicated to raising cows, pigs, and chickens, or gone unused because of competition from bigger agribusinesses. Now, few of the 339 residents, 77% of whom are Black, farm their own properties—and Kendleton, which is in Fort Bend County and a 45-minute drive southwest of Houston, is considered a food desert. The nearest supermarkets with any sizable quantity of fresh fruits and vegetables are more than 20 miles away in Richmond.
To address the lack of fresh produce and help residents reconnect with their farming roots, Chris Williams, the owner and chef of Lucille’s restaurant in Houston, is starting farms through his nonprofit, Lucille’s 1913. Planting began in April at the first location in Kendleton, on 12 of the 54 acres donated to the nonprofit by Fort Bend County. Residents will be hired to grow and harvest dozens of crops, including potatoes, collard greens, and melons, earning a higher hourly rate than they would at other farms. They’ll learn to make seasoning, pickles, sauces, and other shelf-stable products from chef Dawn Burrell, a former Olympic long jumper who’s planning to open a restaurant called Late August with Williams this year. “We bring them back to being masters of the land,” Williams says. “We are creating an all-inclusive culinary cycle.”