AS REGULAR READERS and listeners know, I’ve had a longtime curiosity within the natural seed motion, particularly farm-based corporations that develop no less than among the seed they promote and are proud to inform you the place they supply the remaining. I wish to know the place my seed comes from. Currently I’ve had the pleasure of attending to know a lot of new-to-me corporations, together with Truelove Seeds of Philadelphia, whose web site guarantees culturally essential, open-pollinated seeds to individuals eager for their style of house. At this time’s visitor is Owen Taylor, one in every of its co-founders.
With Christopher Bolden-Newsome, Owen Taylor began Truelove Seeds, which affords a variety of vegetable, flower and herb seed from greater than 50 small-scale city and rural farmers dedicated to neighborhood meals sovereignty, cultural preservation, and sustainable agriculture, and who every share within the gross sales value of each seed packet offered. (Above, Efo Shoko or Lagos spinach, a sort of Celosia.)
Plus: I’m freely giving a few Truelove Seeds reward playing cards to 2 fortunate listeners. Remark within the field close to the underside of the web page to enter.
Learn alongside as you take heed to the January 24, 2022 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. You possibly can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).
seeds that provide a style of house, with owen taylor
Margaret Roach: Hello Owen, and thanks for making time at this time between packing seed orders madly over there, I guess, huh [laughter].
Owen Taylor: It’s my pleasure. Sure. I used to be printing labels up-to-the-minute I bought on this name.
Margaret: I guess. Nicely good. It’s nice to shut my eyes and take into consideration all the gorgeous natural seed going out to the comfortable individuals throughout the nation proper now. In order that’s good.
I ought to say we had been launched by Nate Kleinman of Experimental Farm Community as a part of a latest story I did on natural seed corporations for “The New York Instances” that you just had been additionally a part of. In order that’s the housekeeping.
So I need to hear slightly bit about Truelove, and the background, and the mission and so forth to get began.
Owen: Nice. Nicely, we began Truelove Seeds in 2017, and launched our first on-line catalog on the finish of that 12 months. I’ve been rising meals since I used to be a child, in a small backyard in northeastern Connecticut, the place I grew up. However for the final 15 years—I’m 40 now—I’ve been working in… I suppose now it’s nearer to twenty years that I’ve been working within the food-justice motion, environmental-justice motion in San Francisco after which New York after which Philadelphia. And so this actually springs out of that work.
For 4 years, after I first moved to Philadelphia, I occurred to get a part-time job with Dr. William Woys Weaver and the Roughwood Seed Assortment. I helped him handle his 4,000-plus kinds of heirloom seeds. That’s really the place I first met Nate Kleinman. I put out a name for volunteers, and he got here to assist out.
Owen: Yeah. And so we sort of bought our begins on the similar time, partially because of Roughwood Seed Assortment. And so whereas I used to be working there, Dr. Weaver, his concentrate on seed tales and documenting the histories of meals actually… And in addition the work with caring for these crops that I’d by no means met earlier than, and positively didn’t know from seed to seed—it actually captured my consideration and I fell in love with seed maintaining.
And in order that’s after I determined to return again to the meals justice motion, work with the farmers that I’ve recognized for thus lengthy, and individuals who I feel are doing superb neighborhood work via meals and farming, and sort of recruit them as seed producers and seed keepers for our seed catalog. In order that’s the way it all got here collectively.
Margaret: And that’s one thing that’s distinctive, attention-grabbing about Truelove, is that who grows your seeds, your community of growers you’ve informed me once we’ve spoken earlier than, are the individuals for whom they’re the ancestral seeds. So inform us slightly bit about that.
Owen: Proper. I imply, a part of working at Roughwood, we had seeds from all around the world, from all totally different peoples. They had been sitting, dwelling in our assortment, and I actually cherished having the ability to share them again to their authentic keepers.
It began of me pondering, what if the producers of those seeds are the individuals for whom they’re most essential, and these seeds going house to the individuals who love them. And in order that was the impetus for what we’re doing.
And so we’re all the time searching for farms which can be culturally rooted to work with, or serving to small farms reconnect with cultures misplaced via assimilation, or touring internationally to this land. So Truelove Seeds is lots about sustaining connection, but additionally rebuilding connection via seed maintaining.
Margaret: Proper. Once we spoke for the “New York Instances” story, you talked about to me, for instance, pigeon peas or gandules which can be grown for you by East New York Farms in Brooklyn. That’s a legume that’s a preferred Caribbean ingredient and elsewhere. So that may be one instance, as an illustration, of what you had been simply talking about—of the individuals who love and cherish these crops rising and producing them for you and sharing within the earnings from the sale of every seed packet. Sure?
Owen: Sure, precisely. After I first moved to New York from San Francisco in 2005, I began working with East New York Farms, doing trainings there and collaborating with their growers. And I heard from the start that they’d a concentrate on Afro-Caribbean crops, and had been even contemplating beginning up their very own neighborhood seedbank as a result of there’s lots of, actually lots of, of neighborhood gardens there. Quite a lot of them are run by Jamaicans, Trinidadians—individuals from the Caribbean.
And so I believed they’d be an ideal collaborator. This challenge between us may be a strategy to push them forwards on their seed-keeping objectives inside the neighborhood. And they also determined to concentrate on callaloo, leaf amaranth, on bitter melon, on lengthy beans, or bodi, relying on the place you’re from. After which gandules, or pigeon peas.
And the pigeon peas had been bred… You understand, most individuals who attempt to develop pigeon peas up right here in North America, in northern North America, is not going to have success. However fortunately there was a plant breeder in Georgia, named Dr. Sharad Phatak, who bred them away from their daylength sensitivity. So now they’ll flower whatever the day size, and make fruit whatever the day size. So we’re in a position due to this connection to East New York, who had gotten them from Cornell, who had gotten them from Dr. Sharad Phatak, now we now have these gandules that folks in numerous diasporas… They’re beloved by individuals from elements of Africa, from the Caribbean to South Asia. And so we’re capable of present these seeds now that can really make fruit for individuals who love this vegetable.
Margaret: It’s fairly superb actually when you concentrate on that, that the seeds, too, have tailored to a brand new house. Proper? To a unique house.
Owen: And once more, because of somebody, an Indian man who needed them to be obtainable right here on a unique continent.
Margaret: Yeah. Yeah. You’ve gotten an African Diaspora Assortment of seeds, a complete choice of seeds, that folks can flick through on the web site. Sorghum and sesame and different issues. Perhaps we might speak about that.
Owen: Certain. Nicely, within the very starting of Truelove, we collaborated with many farms, particularly regionally, and most of them had been African diasporic farms, Black individuals in Philadelphia rising their conventional meals, together with my accomplice, who’s the co-founder of Truelove Seeds, who’s a Black farmer from Mississippi. He continues rising his conventional Mississippi legumes, particularly just like the crowder peas, the sector peas. But additionally turnips and mustards and issues like that.
And so he actually helped me to visualise what an African Diaspora Assortment might appear like. He runs the farm at Bartram’s Backyard, Sankofa Neighborhood Farm. They’ve an African Diaspora Backyard there, and so he was already curating this assortment of crops from each West Africa, the place nearly all of Black individuals in america come from, in addition to from the American South. And so he sort of helped me take into consideration the best way to create a set like this.
However then via our work during the last 5 years, we now have individuals on employees who even have a concentrate on the African diaspora, together with my coworker, Amirah Mitchell, who’s about to launch her personal African diasporic seed farm north of the town. She, in addition to different coworkers of mine, have been including to that assortment, along with all of the totally different Black farmers we work with across the nation.
So it simply occurs to be that we now have a selected concentrate on working with Black farmers. We work with farmers from all around the world, together with totally different elements of Asia and the Americas and Europe. However as a result of we work with a bunch of Black farmers, our African Diaspora Assortment has been rising.
Margaret: Yeah. I imply, there’s some beautiful okra and simply actually attention-grabbing issues. And climbing gourds. So positively good for a browse on a winter day [laughter].
Owen: Yeah. It’s attention-grabbing as a result of it’s been extremely popular with West Africans, as a result of we stock just like the bitter eggplant from West Africa and totally different greens, like Efo Shoko [top of page] and Efo Gbure from Nigeria and Ghana. And now we’re working with a Nigerian farmer, Halima Salazar in Mississippi. And we now have companions additionally from Nigeria, who ship us seeds so as to add to the gathering. However then it’s additionally in style with African Individuals due to the quantity of African American heirlooms we now have in there that won’t have been present in West Africa, however have change into essential during the last 400 years right here.
Margaret: Sure. So that you talked about the phrase “eggplant,” and you’ve got what could qualify because the craziest eggplant I’ve ever seen within the catalog [laughter]. Not essentially in that assortment, however I feel it might be one thing newish. I feel it’s the darkish pea eggplant. It appears to be like like slightly berry or fruit borne alongside the stem. I don’t know what to say like, not like grapes, however extra in that path than eggplants. And hilarious. It’s a tiny little factor. Lovely inexperienced. Now what’s that [below]?
Owen: Yeah, it’s really referred to as ka. I imply, no less than from the individuals who I discovered about it from. We work intently with the Karen refugee neighborhood from Burma or Myanmar. They’ve come right here after spending time within the Thai refugee camp, typically a decade or two, due to the battle in Burma. And they’re superb to work with, as a result of they grew up as subsistence farmers and have nonetheless the reminiscence of their conventional meals. They usually’re in search of them out with superb focus.
So that they’re discovering these varieties, together with this tiny eggplant, which is definitely an American species, a Central American species, of eggplant. Most individuals are conversant in… The eggplant most of us who’re in all probability listening eat are the eggplants which can be Asian or Italian. Their origin is Asia. Some individuals say perhaps Africa.
However this one is completely totally different. It’s Solanum torvum. It’s from Central America however extraordinarily in style in Southeast Asia, and that’s how we find out about it. It’s very bitter. That’s what ka means, bitter. So that they created an English identify to explain it, however it’s actually simply referred to as bitter. And it’s used each as a meals, and I’ve discovered to like it. It’s very bitter, but additionally as a medication to assist with fever and malaria. So it’s thought of each.
Margaret: Oh, so medicinal additionally.
Owen: Yeah. And we really grew one from Seed Savers Change this 12 months of the identical species, and it was the tallest plant on our farm. It was in all probability 12 toes tall.
Margaret: Oh, my goodness.
Owen: And lined in these little berries, eggplant berries. However the ones that they develop at Novick Neighborhood Farm, the place the Karen refugees work in South Philadelphia, are shorter. Taller than your common eggplant, however lots shorter than the one we grew.
Margaret: Nicely, I’ll present an image of it within the transcript of this present, once more, at awaytogarden dot com as a result of it’s implausible wanting. I imply, you’d by no means guess it was an eggplant, so it’s sort of hilarious.
And you’ve got like a winter spinach, ‘Haldenstein’ winter spinach. What’s that?
Owen: Sure. Nicely, this one got here from Dr. Weaver’s assortment at Roughwood, and I overlook the place—I feel he bought it from Arche Noah, or Noah’s Ark, in Austria, however I’m not constructive. It’s a spinach that may be very cold-hardy. It comes from a mountain village in Switzerland, the place it’s been grown for generations. And it’s a cool spinach additionally in that it has these pointy seeds. They’re totally different from the seeds most individuals are conversant in their spinach.
However yeah, it does very effectively over the winter. So we even have it within the floor now at our farm, beneath plastic row cowl, for it to go forward and dimension up within the spring after which make seeds for subsequent 12 months’s catalog in the summertime.
It’s scrumptious. It’s sort of like a nutty taste. It appears to be like lots like your common spinach, aside from these pointy seeds. It simply does very well in chilly climate.
Margaret: You’re speaking about chilly and so forth, and one in every of your collections I feel actually speaks to the truth that, particularly presently of 12 months, you recognize, we’re within the winter, we’re hungry pondering ideas of spring and summer time and planting the backyard and so forth. And we overlook once we’re purchasing, quite a lot of us—even skilled gardeners—overlook to buy the issues for afterward, too, to have an prolonged harvest into the cooler months. And you’ve got a complete assortment that actually focuses on cool-weather, season-extending kind of crops that may be executed, whether or not it’s with safety, like excessive tunnels or low tunnels or row cowl or no matter. So let’s simply speak about a few of these, as a result of there’s some nice ones in there.
Owen: Certain. Yeah. My favourite is the ‘Landis’ winter lettuce [above], which is a really hardy lettuce. It’s sort of a butterhead sort, crispy and scrumptious. You understand, a part of the rationale we now have this entire assortment is we collaborate with Tobacco Street Farm in northeastern Connecticut, only a city over from the place I grew up. They’re pals of my mother and her husband, and I’ve labored there for a pair seasons.
They breed winter varieties, as a result of they promote all 12 months spherical, they usually’re in a selected chilly place. And they also, for instance, bred a pair several types of Dutch arugula to be chosen for his or her local weather over the winter. It had already been chosen, I feel, for Maryland winters, after which they chose additional for Connecticut winters.
In addition they bred collectively a number of totally different varieties from the identical species as mizuna, like tatsoi and maruba, collectively after which chosen for chilly tolerance. So they may let 75 p.c of it die from the chilly. And the following 12 months it’s solely 50 p.c. And the following 12 months it’s solely 25 p.c. So that they’ve chosen this winter-hardy mizuna, landrace they name it.
So we put these within the assortment for different folks that wish to have produce when no one else does [laughter]. And so you may plant them in November, maybe, relying in your local weather, and allow them to dimension up a bit, a number of inches tall. After which cowl them for the winter after which have a harvest in late February, March when no one else is harvesting. Or you may plant them in late February or March, and have them fairly early within the season nonetheless.
Margaret: And you’ve got flowers. You’ve gotten herbs. It’s not simply greens, I imply, not simply edibles. You’ve gotten flowers. I feel there’s one which I’ve by no means seen earlier than, really a Nigella, I suppose, what do they name it? Love in a mist, or one thing. However the pods that type after the flowers are very darkish in coloration [above], very stunning. And the flowers aren’t the acquainted blue, however they’re white. Is that one thing new within the catalog?
Owen: It’s. We simply added it, I feel, final week. We’re really landless in the meanwhile. We’ve two years at our land because of our buddy, Linda Clark, who grew this for us. We’re renting from a flower farm. And since we’re there day by day, we advise her on producing seeds from her cut-flower crops. So this was one which was extraordinarily beneficiant with seed pods, and we determined collectively that it could be a terrific providing within the catalog as a result of you need to use it, such as you stated, each as a lower flower and as this decorative seed pod.
There are nigellas which can be used medicinally as effectively, however this isn’t one in every of them. We had been simply enthusiastic about it as a result of it’s so stunning and strange wanting.
Margaret: I feel one of many different ones that caught my consideration, I feel at this time I noticed it and perhaps it’s even offered out already. It’s an enormous marigold. I don’t know the best way to pronounce it. Huacatay.
Owen: It’s Huacatay.
Margaret: Huacatay. It’s like an nearly 10-foot-tall marigold [below]. It’s not outstanding flowers. I’ve seen photos of it earlier than—I feel Peace Seeds, Alan Kapuler out in Corvallis, Oregon, I see that he labored with it, and I feel his youngsters at Peace Seedlings promote it as effectively. Is that one you’ve grown earlier than?
Owen: It’s. I really discovered it rising at Roughwood, after I was working there. It was mislabeled, and I used to be posting about it on-line and I used to be like, “This isn’t appropriate.” And so I discovered it’s Tagetes minuta. So yeah, it’s named for the smallness of its flowers.
Margaret: Nevertheless it’s no minuta plant, that’s for certain [laughter].
Owen: No. It’s taller than us.
Owen: It’s grown particularly in Peru and different elements of the Andes for its edible leaf. It’s a culinary herb that’s made right into a paste sort of like pesto, I suppose, with a completely totally different taste. It’s additionally referred to as black mint or the black mint paste, and it’s utilized in quite a lot of the signature Peruvian dishes, together with ocopa.
And it’s a extremely stunning plant. We really use it as a lower flower, not for the flower, however for the leaves, for the foliage. We’re capable of get it for meals, for foliage, and for seed all in the identical 12 months.
Margaret: Yeah. That’s a terrific one.
Owen: An superior plant. One in every of our hottest varieties really.
Margaret: Oh, it’s. It’s not simply me.
Owen: No. It’s largely Peruvians, really. We’ll get orders for that and for our ‘Aji Amarillo’ pepper and among the different Andean crops all collectively.
Margaret: O.Okay. So I discussed in the beginning that you just sort of promised in among the catalog language and so forth that folks with kind of a cultural connection to sure crops, and searching for “the style of house” so to talk, and you’ve got a selected curiosity, I feel personally, in among the acquainted Italian flavors, and meals, edibles. Sure?
Owen: Sure. Sure. I grew up with my nice grandparents from Southern Italy. And so I’m all the time making an attempt to make the reconnection, though they didn’t cross it down via the generations, to the Italian backyard and the Italian desk. I imply, I bear in mind my nice grandfather’s backyard, however it’s a blurry reminiscence as a result of I used to be a younger child and I didn’t know to ask questions at that time.
And so it’s been a journey to attach with different Southern Italians, which might even appear like stopping on the native pizzeria referred to as Napoli Pizza and be like, “I’m from that area, too.”
After which I’ve gotten quite a lot of concepts for crops to develop from this Neopolitan man at this pizza store. And folks have emailed us. I bought an e-mail from somebody from Southern Connecticut, the place my mother and father are from, saying, “Hey, I like the best way you speak about your Italian grandparents. I’m going to ship you some seeds.”
Owen: And so it’s been superior to reconnect with these crops, but additionally join with Italians, and get slightly bit extra of a way of myself and my household via these relationships.
It’s the identical with Irish crops as a result of I’m additionally Irish. Nevertheless it’s been extra fruitful with Italians, as a result of the totally different histories of colonization. Quite a lot of Irish individuals had been rising for English prospects, they usually had been landless.
So in Southern Italy, there’s extra of a connection to conventional meals ways in which’s distinct. However each of them have been a beautiful journey for me in reconnection. So we now have an Italian assortment, and hopefully via our numerous growers and coworkers could have an Irish assortment within the subsequent couple years as effectively.
Margaret: ‘San Marzano’ tomato [above], did I see?
Owen: Oh yeah. I imply, it’s thought of by most Southern Italians as the very best tomato. I do know there’s extra paste tomatoes on the market. However I develop it yearly. This 12 months, I put up over 50 quarts of sauce in my basement from harvesting the seeds after which making tomato sauce. So I’ll all the time develop that one.
Margaret: Yeah. No, it’s a star, for certain. Are there kind of some that we haven’t talked about that you just’re enthusiastic about that you just to sort of shout out to us? As a result of I imply, clearly you’re over there surrounded by what number of sorts of seeds are you itemizing this 12 months?
Owen: Oh, you recognize, I haven’t even counted.
Margaret: Within the lots of, is it not?
Owen: I’d say positively within the lots of. In the event you go in our basement, you’re surrounded by seeds.
Margaret: Uh-oh [laughter]. Any favorites or something that you just’re seeing individuals are enthusiastic about, or something you need to kind of shout out?
Owen: Certain. Yeah. I’m excited for a few of our new legumes. We must always have our ‘Bambara’ groundnuts [above] again in inventory quickly, that are subterranean black-eyed pea from totally different elements of Africa. It’s extremely popular with Africans within the diaspora. I don’t know that anybody else carries it at this level in America, in North America.
We’ll have some Ecuadorian pinstriped peanuts that my coworker, Julia, who’s Ecuadorian-American is actually excited to supply. They’ve bought crimson and white stripes on the seeds. We’ve, once more this 12 months, the Cucuzza gourd [below], it’s a Sicilian or Southern Italian gourd that perhaps individuals are conversant in, again in inventory. And I’ve simply fallen in love with it during the last couple years.
Margaret: Has quite a lot of persona that does.
Owen: It actually does. I suppose you want some area for it. It grows actually, actually lengthy and tall, and climbs, and makes you recognize, 3-, 4-, 5-foot lengthy fruits that dangle. They usually’re scrumptious after they’re picked slightly bit youthful than that.
Yeah. There’s lots. It’s exhausting to choose. We’ve one other Horace Pippin… I don’t know if individuals are conversant in Horace Pippin, the African American artist from the flip of the final century. We’ve a number of of his varieties within the catalog, and we’re including one other one this 12 months referred to as ‘Previous Pepper Pot,’ which is a really Philadelphian pepper that one in every of our growers reintroduced. We’ll be it passing off to my coworker, Amirah, for her African diaspora farm, which is known as Sistah Seeds. And we’re simply excited to be constructing the African Diaspora Assortment in that manner, too.
Margaret: Heaps occurring over there.
Margaret: Heaps occurring. A basement filled with seeds.
Owen: That’s the way it goes. Yep.
Margaret: I’m so glad you may take day trip this morning to speak about it. I do know you’re swamped and I actually admire your making room for us at this time. So thanks.
Owen: Oh, thanks. Thanks a lot.
Margaret: And as I stated, I’m going to have a few gift-certificate giveaways. So thanks, Owen: Thanks. Thanks. I actually admire it.
(All images from Truelove Seeds.)
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MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its eleventh 12 months in March 2020. In 2016, the present gained three silver medals for excellence from the Backyard Writers Affiliation. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Pay attention regionally within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Jap, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the January 24, 2022 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You possibly can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts right here).