Serious business: Cooking collards

I have to start this conversation with an apology. You all know that I wasn’t born here in eastern North Carolina. I just came here as fast as I could.

This time of year reminds me of preparing the green, leafy and leathery-when-raw vegetable that is called “a collard.”

The few times that I have been to the grocery recently, it appears that every grocery cart is literally overflowing with the greenery.

Yes, I have come to acquire the taste. Nothing better than a “mess” of collards to accompany some good country cooking! It may even be good for our health. That is, if there was not so much fatback in the recipe.

This time of year, it also seems that collards are not the only thing that is being cooked. This last weekend’s newspaper headlines indicate that the City Council is looking toward Greenville’s future. I have not followed the council’s strategic planning process closely, but it does appear that this year’s work embraced some different thinking. Fountainwork, a consultant group, was hired to facilitate the planning retreat. Councilwoman Marion Blackburn was quoted as saying, “It was a chance to stop thinking of us as we are now and start thinking of what we can be.”

Greenville’s recent history was invoked for the sake of setting the foundation for the conversation, and “in the final stretch of the retreat’s session, (the) council brainstormed Greenville’s vision in the format of a 2034 magazine cover, complete with the headlines, images, quotes and sidebars.

“(The) council broke up into two teams and used pens, markers, paper, scissors, glue and other supplies to dream how Greenville would grace a magazine cover and spread 20 years into the future.”

This exercise that was engaged by our elected leaders sounded to me to have been valuable for them. The Daily Reflector article is worth reading, as it is clear that the group was working earnestly to come up with plausible scenarios that are likely to be of great benefit in our future. Health care and education were clear themes, and, understandably, these areas of endeavor are close to our own passions.

At “The Brody,” we have already embarked upon a somewhat similar activity. You may not yet be aware, as this strategic planning process is not in the format of “a retreat.” At the conclusion of this process, we will be re-imagining our future as well. We have called this process “real-time strategy.”

At The Brody, we are tending to peoples’ lives and educating our students and ourselves 24/7. Therefore, it is nigh impossible to have all 2,000 of us to simultaneously come together for even an afternoon, much less an hour. So, in consultation with others, we have orchestrated the opportunity to create an almost continuous strategic-planning process. It will need relatively small stretches of dedicated time while concentrating with maximal focus and intensity. The engagement should finally feel personal and palpable to everyone who dares to care about our mission sufficiently to be full partners in this endeavor. This is how we will secure our future evolution. This process has already started with a small group and will expand to include many others over the next several weeks and months.

We look to imagine our future and dream a little. In this way, we will continue to cherish and support our values while looking forward. In my way of thinking, we need to all consciously recognize that there are many opportunities for us to grasp. In real terms, however, this future can be achieved only with our own personal passion, commitment and work.

“Strategic planning” is often an event, but it is continuous adaptation and innovation that’s demanded. It’s an opportunity to set priorities and begin to work on them.

Rather than a retreat, it’s an advance — a constant challenge of changing our methods to respond to our context. It is our values that remain constant.

To tell the truth, I have become really passionate about collards. My foundation recipe that I have learned from native eastern North Carolinians has involved cleaning the leaves of sand and dirt, de-ribbing, boiling them “to death” seasoned with fatback and chopping the resulting product.

I have not been able to leave well alone!

Here is my latest modified approach. The cleaning and de-ribbing of the leaves remains essential. This is where the recipe begins to deviate. Roll the leaves as if one is making a cigar. Then slice across the rolled leaves, at half inch intervals.

(Question: We all know how to roll cigars, right? My grandfather taught me in Jamaica. But that’s for another time.)

The next few steps will clearly plunge me into the “Bless Your Heart” column!
Put the collards into a pressure cooker with “store-bought” Italian dressing and a little water. Season with some ground allspice, then pressure cook for 20 minutes. Sprinkle black pepper to taste and serve hot!

Oh-my-gosh, folks are saying! My momma would have died!

Values are like collards – their application and context can grow. Collards were once just on the back porch, but now we find them in fine restaurants.

I call this “re-imagining the future.” This is where good and engaged strategic planning becomes important.

Please try it; you may like it!


P.S. Do you know what your blood pressure is?

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