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Collard Green Festival Celebrates Health And Tradition

Chef Julius Forte prepares collard greens at the second annual Collard Greens Festival in St. Petersburg.
Ashley Lisenby
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Beads of sweat glisten on Chef Julius Forte’s face as he demonstrates how he prepares his collard greens.

“We often only know one way to cook (collards),” said Forte, the creator of a meal preparation company called Forte Fuels.

Forte is talking about how many families usually add pork and other salty products to their collard greens to make them tasty. But by eliminating fatty, salty products and cooking the leafy green vegetable in a pressure cooker, he believes the family favorite can be more nutritious.

Forte’s demonstration is a part of the second annual Collard Green Festival in the historically black Midtown neighborhood in St. Petersburg. The festival focuses informing people on urban agriculture, nutrition, fitness and family fun.

Forte says for him cooking collard greens is more than about creating healthier alternatives, it is about keeping an important childhood memory and family tradition alive.

His grandmother Betty Hayward agrees. She watches him prepare his meal in front of dozens of people in the garden behind the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum.

“(Collard greens were) one of the staples that we’ve always had in our family,” Hayward said.

She said she learned how to grow, cook and prepare collard greens from her mother and father. Now, her husband teaches kids how to plant and grow vegetables.

“It means a lot.  It is a part of us,” she said.

The connection Forte and his grandmother have to the history, preparation and cooking of greens is exactly what organizers were trying to introduce to a larger community.

Festival organizer Boyzell Hosey said the festival serves as a space for people to share a part of their family history.

“Many of us have stories around collard greens,” Hosey said. “It conjures up memories because often people make collards on special occasions. It was the holidays: Thanksgiving; Christmas. It was the communal effort of the picking and the washing and the cleaning and the cooking and the conversations that happen around the collard green.”

Follow Ashley Lisenby on Twitter at @aadlisenby

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Ashley Lisenby is a general assignment reporter at WUSF Public Media. She covered racial and economic disparity at St. Louis Public Radio before moving to Tampa in 2019.