Sapelo, a barrier island in Georgia south of Savannah, is home to a population of people who self-identify as Geechees — descendants of slaves and Sapelo inhabitants for more than 200 years. This short film by director Joe York, produced in conjunction with the Southern Foodways Alliance, explores the beautiful setting and asks if one heritage legume might be able to help the community grow.
The red pea, a legume from Sierra Leone, has a genealogy deeply rooted on Sapelo Island. A small, tough pea, sun-dried and hand-shelled, it withholds its form even when slow-cooked. In 2013, Cornelia Walker Bailey, together with her son and daughter-in-law, decided to try to produce more income with the help of the red pea. Their Sapelo Island Geechee Red Pea Project is an attempt to encourage the Geechee community to invest into their own land and keep their property. “I want it to be a place where people live, love, and die,” Bailey says of the island.
Dolores Walker, Cornelia’s daughter-in-law, adds, “We love our island, it’s precious to us… just as precious to as a newborn baby, and we’re going to save our land no matter what… with this little ol’ teeny tiny thing called the little red pea.”