The brutal death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer in May sparked worldwide protests to end systemic racism in our culture. At that time, many folks started to look at ways to help. That is when individuals started sending money to local chef and urban planner Adrian Lipscombe.
Lipscombe owns and operates the Uptowne Café and Bakery on the north side of La Crosse. Adrian and her family have deep roots in black foodways and culture. She grew up in Texas and they moved from Austin, Texas four years ago in search of a slower way of life. She was drawn to the north side of La Crosse by a vacant restaurant and the work to revitalize the area. She opened the Uptowne Café and Bakery on Caledonia Street where she focuses on keeping black foodways alive with her food and efforts to revitalize the community through storytelling and civics projects.
As one of the only black restaurant owners in the Coulee Region she was a little confused with what to do when folks started sending her money. Overnight she had a realization and created the 40 Acres and A Mule Project on GoFundMe. The project is raising money to purchase at least a 40-acre farm for black farmers to produce food for the local food industry, serve as an outlet for black foodways, and be a safe haven to secure the legacy of black foodways.
The name of the project connects historically to the end of the civil war. On January 16, 1865, with the support of US President Abraham Lincoln, Union General William T. Sherman issued special field order No. 15, which gave 400,000 acres of land stretching from South Carolina to Florida to 40,000 newly freed black families. A later order also authorized the army to loan out mules to the new families, giving rise to the phrase “40 acres and a mule.” The action by the Union Army was the aim of the U.S. Government to give restitution to African Americans for enslavement. Unfortunately, when President Lincoln was assassinated, his successor U.S. President Andrew Johnson overturned the order, which returned the land back to the confederate owners. Without land to grow on, many freed slaves became sharecroppers for large white landowners, which continued the cycle of oppression.
Freedom, land ownership, and the means to prosper were seen as a significant pathway to empowerment by enabling African Americans to be a part of the economy, create businesses and community following the Civil War. The reparations movement, which continues today, sees “40 acres and a mule” as a viable promise by the U.S. government to make restitution for enslavement. The significance of this promise to Black people was to present a conduit not only to be free, but also to own land and be integrated as a part of the fabric of the United States to achieve a more equal footing.
Since launching the 40 Acres & A Mule Project, Lipscombe has seen an outpouring of support for the project and surpassed her initial goal of raising $100,000. The project has been featured in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Food & Wine, The Table Underground, A Hungry Society Podcast, and more. Since then, she has upped the fundraising goal to $250,000 and started asking for support from larger corporations.
Our local community came out to support the project in a big way! Adrian and Dani Lind of Rooted Spoon Kitchen Table cohosted a 40 Acres & A Mule BBQ Fundraiser in Viroqua on August 1st to support the project. Many other local businesses stepped up and helped with the fundraiser, including Mary Kastman of Driftless Café, Fat Porcupine Noodle Bar, Driftless Brewing Company, Parrish Music (live music provided by Catherine & Ted Parrish), Meadowlark Organics, Viroqua Floral Mercantile, Bard Bread, Circadian Organics, and Viroqua Food Co+op. All of these people behind these businesses donated their time, food, and/or money in support of the fundraiser.
Viroqua Food Co+op is a proud donor and supporter. If you would like to support the work of Adrian Lipscombe’s 40 Acres & A Mule Project, visit the project on GoFundMe.