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Q&A: A Peanut Butter and Justice Sandwich

For Slow Jams’ Shakirah Simley, who grew up in Harlem and the South Bronx, fruit was a rare treat, and PB&Js were made from sugary store brand jams. “We hardly had access to fresh fruit, never mind local,” she explains. When the enterprising young woman moved to the Bay Area, she was blown away by the year round availability and variety of produce, so much so that she devoted herself to catching it in a bottle—or rather, tightly sealed Mason jars.

“I taught myself how to can, and through many hours of practice, voracious reading, and research, my canning expertise has developed immensely with very successful results,” says Simley, who sells tasty Slow Jams flavors like Cranberry Balsamic Pepper locally and via Twitter at @EatSlowJams.

You can help bring about social justice through jam by buying local, organic products—or by making your own. Simley recommends that beginners “stick to the classics, like berry jams, which happen to be very forgiving fruits during canning and preserving.”

GOOD: What inspired you to create “jam for the people?”

SHAKIRAH SIMLEY: While some folks grew up canning, I did not. I grew up in the South Bronx and in Harlem. We hardly had access to fresh, affordable, abundant (never mind, local or organic) produce. Whenever my siblings and I did have fruit, it was mostly during summer months. My mom would specifically get fruit from street vendors in wealthier neighborhoods, and bring it uptown.

Jam like Welch’s and Smuckers was a requisite for our PB&Js. When I moved to Bay Area, I was amazed at the year-round produce availability, the varieties, and the strong connection to sustainable, local food systems. My desire to make jams and preserves and to start a socially-conscious company like Slow Jams is heavily influenced by my experiences growing up and that lack of access. As I steadily scale up my business over the next year, I want to ensure through Slow Jams that high-quality, local and organic, and culturally appropriate and accessible are not mutually exclusive values.

G: All of your ingredients come from local sources in San Francisco. Tell me a bit about the philosophy behind that.

SS: Some people see canning and preserving as something nostalgic or a dated practice from the past, or even a passing trend with the upsurge in urban homesteading. I’m trying to change that with urban, fresh, and modern products that appeal to a diverse audience and have a social justice mission.

My vision for Slow Jams revolves around a commitment to sourcing a significant percentage of my ingredients and produce from urban growers. We will work to build a sustainable network of urban producers to readily supply the necessary raw product. Urban sources might include urban farms, community gardens, neighborhood fruit trees, urban backyards, and wild and foraged food.

By creating positive economic activity through the vehicle of a local food enterprise, I hope to stimulate the local economy through urban agriculture and green job development and utilize the untapped market of urban farmers and producers. And of course, make really delicious, high-quality jams and preserves that are priced reasonably and distributed equitably.

Photo By Michael Bonocore

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