Mother of Seeds
Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange sits in the Acorn Community house she helped start
Thanks to Renard Turner of Vanguard Ranch, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the founders of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and the Acorn Community near Charlottesville, Virginia. Ira is well known in the seed world, having played an instrumental role in growing the worker-owned seed business housed in the decades-old intentional community Acorn. Her knowledge on growing food and growing for seed currently has her busy writing a guidebook and keeping up her blog column for Mother Earth News. Ira learned to love gardening through her grandmother, who she remembers grew collards, sweet potatoes and had pecan and guava trees. Her grandmother also made soap and many other natural, homemade products. So when Ira spoke about being one of very few people of color living in intentional communities throughout her adult life and how she’s witnessed the growth of the movement to be sustainable and natural, she commented, ” Growing up, this is just what we did. Its nothing new.”
We discussed the possible reasons for why the percentage of people of color in communities/communes like Acorn is so low. What’s your opinion? We also talked about how Ira was reluctant to encourage Black farmers in the Southeast to grow for seed at first, for fear of the business’s success in the early stages. But now, with a customer base of over 100,000 and success an obvious quality of the business, she is reaching out to farmers of color who are interested in growing, saving and selling their seed! Get in touch on the website, linked above, if you or someone you know is interested.
As Ira would say, democracy is in the seeds. Let’s all join the revolution – go plant.
Brother Lewis, a goat farmer near Charlottesville, Virginia shows me his land, his goats and his dogs
A fellow goat farmer and good friend to Renard also volunteered to meet with me before I left the area. I drove over from Acorn Community to Brother Lewis’s home on 30 acres, where his family has been farming for decades. He’s raising about 40 goats and sells them directly to consumers through word of mouth in his community. Brother Lewis is raising his goats and his vegetable crops organically, but like many of the other farmers I’ve interviewed, he thinks it’s funny that Organic is a label nowadays. “It’s just what we’ve always done…we use the chicken manure as fertilizer,” Lewis says, ” Back then, when your roots depended on growing food, it’s what you did. You didn’t think about it being the ‘right’ thing to do.”
Brother Lewis grew up farming but taught himself about how to raise goats by talking to other farmers, such as Renard, and reading. He spoke about how depending on your community, particularly in areas rich in agricultural history, is the best way to learn. “Sometimes all this [formal] education makes you miss the simple things,” says Lewis, “We just need to respect the land and it will give us what we want.”
Brother Lewis is a strong believer in his words, “It’s not about me, it’s about us.” And our definition of ‘us’ needs to expand all the way to the soil.
I spent an afternoon with Tamara and her mother Gwen(left) and Stef (above) in Richmond!
On my last stop in the state of Virginia, the home of big tobacco farms, I paid a visit to some sister food community organizers, health advocates and gardeners in Richmond. Tamara Elmore of TELMORE Gardens, her mother Gwendolyn Young and Stef Paige-Reese, who connected with Tamara through a group called Sisters Grow (a Facebook group for girls and women of African Descent growing food). Tamara started growing her own food due to her neighborhood’s food access and is now expanding her backyard garden to the front yard in order to grow for her neighbors and get them involved. Stef is on a mission of “reconnecting with self “and continuing her social justice activism through becoming self-sufficient.
We talked about the history of Richmond’s food access, old Soul Food restaurants, health for Black women and plans Tamara and Stef both have for their food and farming futures. Tamara and a friend are starting a farm called Two Sistahs and A Hoe (you know you love it). While Stef has been reconnecting with her own family’s roots in agriculture through her relatives’ farms in Virginia and wants to start a farmers’ market in Richmond.
Their take on food access in Richmond and starting a movement of change is ” If you never speak up about your situation, nothing will be done about your situation.”
These posts are just excerpts from the upcoming Color of Food photo documentary book. The COLOR of FOOD/ photo documentary tour: Currently in Florida and Georgia!
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