We recently had an opportunity to connect with Cam Terry, a farmer in Roanoke, Virginia who is currently raising funds with Agrarian Trust and Central Virginia Agrarian Commons to acquire a parcel of land in central Roanoke. We spoke about Okra Fest, a yearly arts festival that Cam hosts on his farm celebrating okra, community, and more. Read on to hear about the music, food, and paint by murals that made Okra Fest a resounding success! This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How was Okra Fest?
Cam: It was great, a lot better weather than it was like last year. A few sprinkles here and there, but for the most part it stayed dry and we had over two hundred people come out to the farm. It was a real party! There was a pretty cool live music and dance performance.
Nice! What kind of music did you guys have playing?
I hired a couple of DJ’s! It was a five hour long party, so I figured we’d split it up. We had a hip hop DJ at first, and we got funding for a local arts and culture grant for a local group called Community Arts Reach to do about an hour long live performance. It was mostly young people, a few singer songwriters, some gospel, and there a few drummers who did some drum solos. Then after community Arts Reach was done, we had David Stewart, a local compost wizard by day, who also plays guitar. And then we had my brother who is a house DJ, and he finished it with some funky dance music.
We look at it as an arts and culture festival. We had a muralist who’s been working for a few weeks that she set up as paint by numbers, so anyone can come and put a few colors on and add their hand print. It was really an opportunity for people to plug in and leave their mark on the farm, and really take ownership of a place. We’re running out of spaces to mural at this point, so we might have to get more creative in the years to come. We had a face painter who came.
And how about the food? Was it okra themed?
We had two food vendors, one called Hot Knot. They do Bavarian Pretzels and make sandwiches out of them. Then there was a food truck called Giggles the Bus, whose proprietor definitely has a connection with Okra and was really excited about doing that. She brought a jambalaya—it sold out within a couple of hours.
We also had a couple of demonstration chefs. We had them set up in the packing shed. The first cook did an okra dish with sweet potatoes with tomatoes, and the second did a good old southern fried okra that she gave out free samples of. There was a little something for everybody. It’s something we hope, as the construction of the farmhouse comes to fruition, to do in the farmhouse kitchen. In our neighborhood, cooking demonstrations are something that a lot of people near by would benefit from.
What inspired you to host Okra Fest, and why did you choose to celebrate Okra in particular?
My inspiration for Okra Fest came in a roundabout way after I learned about the italian idea of a ‘sagra’, which is just a festival of sorts that’s built around one or two seasonal ingredients. Seeing pictures of people celebrating eggplants, or tomatoes, or whatnot–I thought it would be a cool idea to set up an event that was centered around a product that the farm produces.
Okra really works for us because we’re at the nexus of the south and mid atlantic, and there are restaurants around here that really fancy themselves as southern cuisine, so we can grow a lot of it and sell a lot of it. And for me, from a heritage perspective, it means a lot. Its a crop that comes to the United States by way of the slave ship and was something that used not just as food but as fiber—it was a multipurpose that comes from the African Diaspora. It’s important to me to know the heritage of the people I come from.
Still, it’s kind of a forgotten vegetable in a lot of ways. A lot of people come up to my farmstand and think it’s peppers, or have only seen it breaded or fried. I feel like I’m doing this vegetable a solid and really doing it in giving it the attention it really deserves.
Do you have a personal favorite okra dish?
You can’t go wrong with using tomatoes and okra together. The acid of the tomatoes really reduces the slimy texture. Specifically, I like gumbos and jambalaya.
How’s the farm season in general?
It’s been a really successful year in general. Our farmers market is really healthy, we’re seeing increased attendance. We added another farmer’s market on a Saturday. And on our farm, we’ve more than doubled our space under cultivation from last year. We’re growing more food than ever, and that means that more people are getting involved in growing the food. It’s been a really successful year on all fronts!
Cam’s fundraiser to acquire land is still active! You can donate today by following this link.