Written by Garrad Lee | Photographed by Paul Wolf
On many days and nights in Fondren, you can run into Robert Raymond in one of several places. He might be handcrafting your cocktail at Apothecary, or making coffee drinks at Sneaky Beans or serving you drinks at a special event. There’s also a good chance he’ll be giving you one of his homemade loaves of bread. No matter what setting you see him in, he is engaged in work that he sees as being bigger than just himself.
Raymond, 27, came to Mississippi, via Chicago, in 2014 through his work with FoodCorps. “I was teaching middle schoolers about cooking, gardening and nutrition, and we would discuss food’s role in culture and our personal and community relationships to food,” he says.
Growing up in a big city, Raymond wanted to come to Jackson after a stint in Oxford because he “wanted to be back in a little more of a city environment. It seemed like there were some cool people doing some cool stuff so I moved down here and it really stuck. It’s been really easy to build a community and meet friends. Folks don’t wait around for someone else to start something. I think my favorite things about this city all got started because of the DIY energy that originally attracted me here.”
That “DIY energy” is reflected in everything Raymond does in Jackson. Through his work with the Cooperative Community of New West Jackson (CCNWJ), he aids in enacting the organization’s vision, which is to create a model for how neighborhoods can develop with the people that have lived there for generations, through community gardening and developing a community land trust to hold the neighborhood property and protect it from gentrifying development. “We have a community farm that is both production farm, learning garden and community meeting space. There will also be opportunities with a community kitchen, design studio, clothing design, pottery and other areas that come from residents’ interests. It’s all part of shifting people’s mindsets from conspicuous consumption to meeting their needs through their relationship to the land and to their community,” he says.
One of the hobbies Raymond is most passionate about is his bread making. “I started making bread in college right around the time I started gardening and was on this big kick of figuring out all of these things I previously took for granted. I’ve been baking on-and-off as a hobby for the last eight years or so, and only in the last year did I start baking really regularly,” he says.
By this spring, he was baking weekly for Apothecary, the Garden Farmecy CSA and a few loaves here and there for friends. He is taking the summer off (500-degree ovens and 95 degree days) to begin planning a community supported bakery, where he will send out a weekly list of what he is baking and taking orders.
For Raymond, it is about much more than just bread or coffee or cocktails or gardens; it’s all about community and finding ways to break the capitalistic-created cycles of lack of land ownership and dependence on absentee landlords and fast food. He says, “I truly believe that more people need to become producers, and not just in the interest of owning one’s own business, but truly in an artistic sense that serves the community. I think this is the only way to continue to create these folk cultures and traditions that we value so highly. This is one of the reasons I came to Jackson, because I recognized that people were making things happen despite the scarcity of resources. But I think some of the best creativity comes in situations of scarcity.”