Professor Michael Gill, Syracuse’s Brady Farm Awarded Grant for “Fermenting Stories” Project

Syracuse University School of Education Professor Michael Gill has been awarded an Engaged Communities Mini-Grant by the College of Arts and Sciences. The funding allows Gill to collaborate with Brady Farm, located in Syracuse’s South Side neighborhood, to explore how communities use food fermentation as a culture-making practice.

Michael Gill headshot

Gill’s study addresses fermentation in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which saw microbes linked to “contamination,” “infection,” “invasion,” and “impurity,” yet which saw a resurgence of home food preparation, such as preserving, brewing, and bread-making.

The Engaged Communities Mini-Grant program is designed to support publicly engaged research and teaching through mutually beneficial projects created between Syracuse University faculty, staff, and students and community partners. These projects seek to co-create public goods based on community assets, needs, and interests.

“We will explore how individuals and various communities use fermentation as a way of preserving and transforming ingredients, as well as connecting to culture and communities,” says Gill. “We will partner with individuals and communities, especially migrant communities in Syracuse, to use fermentation as a storytelling and culture-making practice.”

From making kimchi and sauerkraut to tempeh and sourdough, individuals across the globe ferment ingredients to preserve, transform, and enrich. Ferments can be tied to family practice and storytelling, as well as important connections to cultural practices that might be lost due to forced migration or transnational adoption.

“Fermentation as a practice—and the stories attached to these ferments—are of vital importance to many groups of people.”

As Gill observes, Upstate NY and other parts of the Northeast have a rich history of fermentation. Many local producers are reintroducing consumers and communities to diverse ways of making and preserving products, including wild fermented cider, wine, and cheese.

“Fermentation as a practice—and the stories attached to these ferments—are of vital importance to many groups of people,” says Gill. “This project brings fermenters together as storytellers and creators.”

As part of the grant, Gill and Brady Farm will run three to four fermentation classes, open and free to the community. The grant will be used to pay honorarium to community members to teach recipes and fermentation practices to anyone interested. Ingredients will be purchased from Brady Farm, a city farm whose goal is to provide affordable, fresh, locally grown produce to its community.

The project also will create a public web-based archive documenting experiences and histories of fermentation. Explains Gill, “This model links community-supported agriculture with the expertise and knowledge of community teachers to expand efforts of food justice and sustainability embedded in the work of Brady Farm.”