Simone Stokes, Sophia Lancione, Randie Trestrail, Sarah Linden-Brooks, Kathryn Pellar and Mike Steen (from left) are working on the "Bay to Belly" project.
Simone Stokes has lived in Hampton Roads most of her life and loves seafood, so she’s aware of the industry’s importance to the local economy. However, she never thought about the process of getting that food from the Chesapeake Bay to area tables. She never thought about how that seafood would be affected – and by extension, how consumers would be affected - if the Chesapeake Bay were polluted.
“We just cook it and eat. We don’t think about the process or what it went through or where it came from,” she admitted.
Thanks in part to Stokes, two fellow Thomas Nelson students and two Thomas Nelson professors, that’s about to change. The “Bay to Belly” 500-square foot traveling exhibit, an effort between the Watermen’s Museum in Yorktown and the College, will explain all of that.
“The whole idea of the project is just to get people thinking about the community and identity of the Chesapeake (Bay) and how that comes out of our foodways,” said Sarah Linden-Brooks, a history instructor at Thomas Nelson. “The goal was to make those connections for individuals to think about when you’re ordering a crab cake. Where did that crab come from and who are the people who have been involved in helping it get out of the Chesapeake Bay and processed and onto your table?”
The project's origin can be traced to Linden-Brooks’ participation at the National Foundation for Humanities Summer Institute in 2018. She came back impassioned, wanting to return to her roots in maritime history.
“I approached the Watermen’s Museum because it seems like a natural fit with what they do,” she said.
Mike Steen, the museum’s director of education, agreed. Their role is to provide educational expertise, help the students with the layout of the displays, and create a school curriculum.
“We always need help with exhibits, and we always need young minds,” Steen said.
Stokes is editor of the introductory video and the project’s oral histories. Kathryn Pellar is writing the script and doing research for the introductory video as well as reviewing the museum’s oral histories. Sophia Lancione works with Thomas Nelson’s Randie Trestrail on the project’s graphic design.
Museum officials will take what the students provide and play the part of editor, in addition to putting that information into curriculum for elementary and middle school students.
“There will be an educational component that can travel with this,” Steen said. “The kids will have the curriculum that corresponds to it.”
The project is funded by grants ($10,000 from Virginia Humanities and nearly $4,000 from a Thomas Nelson Educational Foundation Faculty-Staff Innovator Grant), corporate sponsorship and private donations.
The exhibit's unveiling is set for the last weekend in March 2020 at the Watermen’s Museum. It will be on display at Thomas Nelson in April as part of a colloquium. Students who worked on the project will be on hand to engage other students. Several museums, institutions and libraries throughout the state have expressed an interest in the display. Those details haven’t been finalized.
“Over the lifetime of the traveling exhibit, it is expected that the exhibit will be enjoyed by more than 10,000 patrons,” Linden-Brooks wrote in a grant proposal.
It has already had an effect on participating students.
“I’m learning a lot because I didn’t know anything about the Chesapeake (Bay),” said Pellar, who is from Michigan. “I didn’t know what it encompassed.
“I like the parts that are specific to people, like the watermen.”
Stokes said her work on the project has created much more than just an awareness of the Chesapeake Bay and what it has to offer.
“It’s become more of a concern,” Stokes said. “We have to take care of our bay so that what I’m eating is healthy, as well.”