By Joey LoMonaco
Fredericksburg Free Press
To Gaila Sims, the history of food has one quality that differentiates it from similar examinations and appreciations of, say, architecture or baseball.
“What is extra special about food is that everyone has to eat it to live,” Sims said. “It’s a really engaging and accessible way to talk about history.”
Beyond the obvious biological imperative, however, is a more nuanced story, one that Sims hopes to begin telling through the Fredericksburg Foodways Project, an exhibit coming to the Fredericksburg Area Museum in 2026. Sims and Chef Joy Crump, founding partner at Foode, discussed the endeavor during a conversation at 718 Venue on Thursday night.
The project is focused “on how food has shaped our community, this region, right now but also how we continue to use food to come together,” Sims said during the ticketed event, which was moderated by Tramia Jackson, the director of learning at Mount Vernon.
From a look at the Rappahannock River as a source of sustenance for indigenous communities like the Patawomek Tribe to contemporary chefs like Crump, the project seeks to explore not only how food has shaped Fredericksburg—but also how its residents have repaid the favor.
Crump admitted that she wasn’t exactly enthused when her business partner Beth Black first floated the idea of a restaurant week menu consisting entirely of original Fredericksburg recipes. But after Crump, who also sits on FAM’s board, learned about the Foodways exhibit, the culinary pieces began to fall into place.
“You hear about how it’s framed: the market, the river and the kitchen, and that to me made sense,” Crump said. “I can build a menu around that.”
In January, she did just that. Foode’s most recent winter restaurant week menu, developed in collaboration with FAM and the Patawomek Tribe, featured blue maize cornbread among a slew of other local ingredients and dishes.
The project will also explore the role that food played during pivotal moments in Fredericksburg’s history, such as the Civil Rights movement. From her seat in the audience, Gaye Adegbalola briefly took the floor to discuss the sit-ins Black youth held at lunch counters across the area.
“We all wanted to have a hamburger at Woolworth’s,” Adegbalola recalled. “Eventually we got to do that, and it was not the experience we had hoped for.”
Sims said she’s often been asked why the exhibit is launching two years in advance. Beyond logistical considerations, the FAM wants to solicit a truly representative collection from the Fredericksburg area.
“We’re launching now so we can start collecting your stories, your objects, your images, your family recipes,” she said. “We want to engage with you and everyone else to make sure the exhibit feels like part of the community.