Welcome to the fourth edition of Crop Stories, our Sweet Potato issue. For the team who produces this magazine, this collection of paragraphs and photographs represents discovery and reinvention. After three editions, our identity as a publication did not require a restructure. But a long hiatus between our last effort, Radishes, and the issue now under your gaze, offered us an opportunity to recast ourselves. We felt as if the box we had built for ourselves constrained us. Emerging from the pause, we asked ourselves, why not start from scratch, collect what we liked from the old and insert the new? Others agreed. So we set forth with a simple principle: Let’s do more. Let’s do better. Let’s stretch and multiply the stories we tell. Let’s untether design from any restriction. Let’s seek out diverse narratives and writers.
To craft this vision, Crop Stories expanded its editorial team to include Nicole A. Taylor and Keia Mastrianni. They applied their veteran expertise to planning and executing this edition, and also contributed to its pages. Nicole, author of “The Up South Cookbook,” compiled and edited our recipe section, including a few of her own sweet potato specialties. Keia, a food writer, baker, and farmer based in Shelby, N.C., guided our essays to completion and composed one herself. “Beyond the Farm Stand” is a fine example of her writerly skill.
You’ll find plenty of familiars here: histories and how-tos, idiosyncratic characters, comforting and challenging recipes. There’s new material, too, like our Agrarian Guide, which spotlights locations of smart farming, good dining, and advocacy in a specific state (we picked Alabama for our first attempt).
What you’ll notice most, we hope, is how the stories presented in the following pages begin to complicate or discard any idyllic notions of farming in the American South. We share the same love for what draws others to the field—independence, soil that nurtures, a rustic gastronomy— but we refuse to blot out difficult topics like race, class, gender, and age, that permeate every aspect of modern life.
Have we accomplished such a lofty goal? That’s for you to decide. But know this: In the spirit of the farmers and food workers we idolize and chronicle, we will continue to tinker, tweak, blow it all up and start again. Our reinvention continues.