andrews ’24 retraces her great-grandfather’s farming footsteps

Every year, the Bailey COE awards fellowships to fund summer research opportunities for Wesleyan students across all majors and class years. Most recently, the COE awarded 35 summer fellowships and 1 fall fellowship to Wes students. Olivia Andrews ’24 is an art history major with a minor in film. Olivia’s summer fellowship project mainly centered around her great-grandfather, Tony Andrews, a black farmer who emigrated from Cape Verde by boat in 1926 and founded the family’s farm in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Can you tell me a little bit about the summer project that you did with your Bailey COE summer fellowship?
I started the project in my sophomore spring, when I took Animate Landscapes: Spirits and Sovereignty in Indigenous Religions/RELI306, with Professor Justine Quijada. For the final we could either write an essay about a court case in New Zealand or write a creative story. So I chose the story. 

For the story you had to personify a landscape that you were familiar with. I chose my family’s farm in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and personified the soil and described its relationship to my great-grandfather, Tony Andrews, who immigrated from Cape Verde by boat in 1926 and started the family farm. In the story, I also talked about how when he passed away, the farm would either be sold or my uncle would continue it in my great-grandfather’s legacy. For the project, I also recorded an audiobook version, just trying to jazz it up. 

When I submitted it, I wasn’t sure what Professor Quijada would think. Then she emailed me and said it was amazing—and emailed me again, junior fall, asking permission to share it with Barry Chernoff, director of the Bailey College of the Environment and chair of environmental studies. The Bailey COE is trying to do more collaborations with black farmers in New England, so Professor Quijada thought this could be a really interesting kind of opportunity for that. Professor Chernoff also really loved the stories and they both told me I should definitely continue with this idea. So that’s how I got started. 

Throughout that winter, spring, and summer, I conducted in-depth interviews with family members, especially my uncle who currently runs the farm. I also went to Cape Verde and researched agricultural practices across different islands. During this time I was able to meet long-lost relatives who have a small farm plot and see where my great-grandfather would have started farming before he came to the US. I knew I wanted to do an installation, because I’ve been really curious about that concept and in curation and also because I’m majoring in art history. I had really put my creative side aside during college. I think this project really reignited that.

Can you describe the installation? 
The installation took place at my family’s farm in Cape Cod in October 2023. The concept was that you lay down and you have these headphones that look like they’re coming out of the ground. So it’s like you’re plugging into the soil and hearing the story of the land from the soil’s perspective. The day I did the installation it was really windy which created a really nice experience for people as they looked up at the swaying trees while listening. I think that made it extra moving for some. After you listen, you walk into a shed to see photos and images that share the same stories that the person just listened to. People that I thought would not be interested at all actually were. So many people were coming up, especially to the shed, and asking questions and telling me that they knew my great-grandfather and how much they love the farm and people were really engaged with it. 

How did you design and construct the installation?
The installation was constructed from wooden pallets and one board of wood that were drilled together, topped with a cushion covered with a traditional Cape Verdean fabric, panú di téra, which means fabric of the earth, that I got during my time in Cape Verde this summer. There were some gaps on the bottom. So I just stuffed a ton of sunflowers because it’s also sunflower season on the farm. For the audio, I wanted to use a cassette tape player, because I wanted people to be able to press play. I found this 50- to 60-year-old cassette tape player that I got after my grandmother passed away, and I put in new batteries and it worked perfectly. All of it just really worked.

Anything else you’d like to add about your experience?
I think what’s interesting about the Bailey COE is how interdisciplinary it is. I wish I knew earlier.  I don’t know if I would have done the linked major, but I think I just assumed it was strictly environmental science. It’s interesting how the COE really encourages students to connect the environment with other majors and encourages students to have an awareness and care for the environment, even if they don’t think it intersects with their interest.s Because it really does intersect with everything.