SAVING THE PAST FOR THE FUTURE, SOUTHERN EXPOSURE SEED EXCHANGE, with IRA WALLACE
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Following up on last week’s episode with Jere Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, as well as revisiting our conversation with the Organic Seed Alliance and Kalan Redwood of Redwood Seeds, today we are joined by another passionate and accomplished gardener and seed advocate, Ira Wallace.
Ira Wallace serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), on the Virginia Association for Biological Farming(VABF) and the Open Source Seed Initiative; she is an active member of and Education and Seed Selection Coordinator for the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, and Acorn Community Organic Farm (where she is a founding resident). She is also a founder organizer of the upcoming Heritage Harvest Festival September 20 through the 22nd in Charlottesville, VA at Monticello. Ira is also the author of The Timber Press Guide to Gardening in the Southeast.
Ira proudly just turned 70 and she took that accomplishment to be an invitation to cut back a bit on straight field trial work and create a new trial garden about – and complete with innovations for - "helping gardeners as we age." The trial garden is on the grounds of the Acorn Community farm, a 70 acre organic farm, home of her community and of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. "Because this is a seed farm, the individual gardens on the entire farm are smaller and spaced strategically far enough from one another to avoid unintended cross-pollination." The Seed Garden near where Ira lives on the farm is about 4 acres, but she tends an area that’s about ¼ acre of that with help from friends She still looks at new varieties SESE and the farm are thinking of offering in the catalogue, she visits seed growers in her region to look at the quality of their seed, and she enjoys her gardening work running around on a scooter.
She is busy writing for SESE catalogue, for their website, and for other publications/books, but also speaks to seed savers EVERYWHERE about the work, including hands on techniques, etc.
Ira’s grandmother taught her to be a gardener and as a young person on their large double lot in Tampa Florida, where she thought "there was wayyy too much emphasis on weeding," she says laughing in her inimitable way. In Florida, they gardened year round, although in the heat of Tampa’s summer "things sort of come to something of a standstill." She clearly remembers harvesting black eyed peas, okra and sweet potatoes and in those long hot summer dormancies akin to snow in winter for Northerners, she remembers a "6 week rest period in which they could only harvest okra!"
Ira Joins us from studios of WVTF public radio in Charlottesville, VA
"We here at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange specialize in family heirlooms....”
Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a network of over 50 seed growers. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange offers more than 700 varieties of vegetable, flower, herb, grain and cover crop seeds. And they specialize in family Heirlooms and varieties that perform well in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.
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Did you catch her phrase: we specialize in FAMILY HEIRLOOMS?
Let’s unpack that a little shall we. At first hearing, this phrase went right by me. Yea – of course – heirloom seeds, they’re a thing. Great. But on second listen the phrase made me pause and think about it. When most people use the phrase Family Heirloom they are referring to inorganic, stuff: furniture, art, jewelry – stuff. So to put the phrase on seeds passed down through families – this gets at something for me. It asks me to think about what I value – what I would take with me in the event of an evacuation. It also gets to our cultural legacies carried in the lands we steward and support, the gardens we keep and the seeds we hold dear – full of life and narratives held no where else.
If you’re family has plant or seed heirlooms – what are they? How do we hold and carry these legacies for the future?
I love stories held in seeds and plants and the story of Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato is a great one. Ira’s story of seeds dropped off with no name and no address but a long family history with the seed is so poignantly bittersweet isn’t it? Did you happen to register the reverse irony in which last week Jere Gettle was inspired while on the east coast to organize the National Heirloom Expo festival he co-founded on the West Coast 6 years ago; Ira was inspired 13 years ago while on a visit to the WEST COAST to co-found the Heritage Harvest Festival on the East coast in Virginia – there’s something sweet, bi-coastal, Universe knocking – wind borne cross pollination at play in these stories.
For seed growers who are concerned about the state of our seed, seed safety and seed sovereignty – I wanted to read to you the Safe Seed Pledge that many of them take as an oath of sorts as to their own standards – as home gardeners, I feel like being clear on our own standards and holding to them is equally important. Consider your own version of a Safe Garden Pledge for your seeds, your plants, your soil supplements, the wildlife you welcome…and the wildlife you decide to live with before abandoning your own pledge.
The Safe Seed Pledge
Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations.
For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners, and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we will not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political, and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing is necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds.
Further, we wish to support agricultural progress that leads to healthier soils, genetically diverse agricultural ecosystems and ultimately people and communities.
Join us again next week as the conversations focusing on the Seeds of September continue next week when we speak with Rowen White, founder of Sierra Seeds in Interior Northern California, and board member of the Indigenous Seedkeepers’ Network.
There are soooooo many ways people engage in and grow from the cultivation of their places.
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