Seeds And Their People Radio Show
Welcome to Seeds And Their People! In our first episode, we share some seed stories that are important to us, our ancestors, and our story as partners in life and love. You'll hear about the Irish Lumper potato, the field pea, the Borlotto bean, and okra. We also share how cotton and apples helped bring us together.
Welcome back to Seeds And Their People! In this second episode, Owen interviews his seed friend Kristyn about her Korean seed stories, her food, farming, and activist community, and our mutual love for Jewel in the Palace.
Ira Wallace from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange talks about her faves: collards and roselle. She also describes her life growing up, her work with southern and African Diasporic seeds and stories, and takes questions from Truelove Seeds apprentices (and adoring fans) Amirah Mitchell and Chris Keeve and from a visitor named Mimi.
In this fourth episode, we talk with Chris’s parents Rufus and Demalda Newsome of Newsome Community Farms in Greenville, Mississippi at Christmas. While Rufus pulls seeds from cotton he talks about growing up at ten years old working in the cotton fields as a weed chopper, a hoe filer, and a water boy. While Demalda chops vegetables for the Christmas meal, she describes growing up harvesting fruits from neighborhood trees and beans from an overturned bean truck, and getting watermelons from the watermelon man. While she and Chris make tamales, we talk about how they’d always eat them with hot donuts in the Delta at Christmas, which brings us to talking about segregation and desegregation. She describes her advocacy and food sovereignty work with Newsome Community Farms, Community Food Security Coalition, and Food First. There’s a hidden track at the very end where Rufus opens his very first moringa pods (see the videos here) and the grandkids get to taste the seeds and the way they transform water, and we discuss seed maturity and storage, and the importance of eating good bacteria.
This episode is all about one plant with countless names: Molokhia (Corchorus olitorius). You may know it as Jute, Jew's Mallow, Egyptian Spinach, any of the names in the title of this episode, or as something else altogether! This plant is beloved throughout the world and so we talked to people whose roots are in Vietnam, Haiti, Philippines, Nigeria, Palestine, and Syria about how they grow, harvest, prepare, eat, and save seeds from this delicious, nutritious, healing, and slimy plant. You will hear many similarities and differences. One thing is clear: everyone holds it dear for the way the flavors, textures, and even the tedious plucking of leaves transports them back home.
This episode is all about the Fish Pepper, an extremely flavorful, productive, and decorative variety that makes an excellent hot sauce. The white unripe fruit were used to flavor seafood dishes in the Black catering community of Baltimore in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Horace Pippin, the now-famed painter, shared this variety (and many others) with H. Ralph Weaver in the early 1940s in exchange for bee-sting therapy. Weaver's grandson (William Woys Weaver, who you will hear from in the second half of this episode) found the seeds in a baby food jar in his grandmother's deep freezer a couple decades later, many years after his grandfather's death, and was able to reintroduce them via Seed Savers Exchange.
In this episode, you will hear from Xavier Brown from Soilful City in Washington DC who makes Pippin Sauce from fish peppers grown by black farmers and urban gardeners in the DC and Maryland areas (including Denzel Mitchell, who you will also hear from). Soilful City offers their seeds through Truelove Seeds. You will also hear from Michael Twitty, author of the Cooking Gene. See links to the work of each of the speakers below.
This episode features four interviews with Karen farmers from the mountains of the Karen state of Burma (Myanmar) who spent roughly a decade in Thai refugee camps before resettling in South Philadelphia. They now grow their traditional crops at Novick Urban Farm.
The Karen way with food plants was key to their survival and joy while living in the center of a civil war; then again while hiding in the jungle and escaping to Thailand, biding time in the tight quarters of refugee camps; and today, farming and foraging here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Their heirloom vegetables and traditional foods have become a lifeline, a heartstring, a refuge, and a delicious portal home.
Frank Morton of Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, Oregon visited our Truelove Seeds farm during a cross-country road trip in July, 2019. Frank began in the early 1980s as a salad grower providing greens for grocery stores throughout the country. As you will hear in this episode, an accidental hybrid between two of his lettuces sparked a deep passion for breeding new varieties, and he has been doing so ever since, now with varieties in many seed catalogs, and even in space.
Frank has been a invaluable mentor for so many people in the organic and small regional seed company world. We are so grateful for the wisdom he shares.
In this episode, Palestinian chef Anan Jardali Zahr describes her beloved foodways and ingredients, including Molokhia, Kusa, and Zaatar. Anan was born in Akka, Palestine and came to California at age 11, after the Six-Day War of 1967. She graduated from University of California at Berkeley’s Department of Near Eastern Studies and attended Graduate School at West Chester University in the Department of Education. She and her family have lived in the Philadelphia area since 1980 where she previously taught in the school system.
From 1995-2001, Anan had a Mediterranean restaurant in Wilmington, Delaware and she continues to share her love for Palestinian food through cooking demonstrations (which is how we first met, at the Culinary Literacy Center of the Free Library of Philadelphia) and through Instagram (@ananzahr).
In this episode, we hear from former Truelove Seeds apprentice and current Truelove Seeds seed producer and collaborator Chris Keeve in an interview from last fall 2021 when they visited during our annual growers gathering at our farm outside of Philadelphia, PA. There is also a short clip from the summer of 2019 while a group of us harvested peas and Chris narrates, and a short update from this month so we can hear the awesome things Chris is up to this summer.
In this episode, we hear from former Truelove Seeds apprentice Kai Delgado Pfeifer in an interview from last fall 2021 when they visited our office and seed room in Philadelphia. There is also a short update from this week so we can hear the awesome things Kai is up to now and in the near future. This is the second of two back-to-back episodes featuring former apprentices, but we will certainly do more in the future.
This interview overflows with deep wisdom, rough experience and a heapin’ side of humor all in Ms. Pearl’s pecan smooth Mississippi cadence and style. It is uncharacteristically long for our conversations and we know you will be BLESSED by every minute! Ms. Pearl is a daughter of the delta and migrated north. She was born and raised in what would today be considered deep poverty in the then and now poorest state of the union in a time and place where slavery was dead in name only. White supremacy and deep oppression of the working class was and remains a very real and present danger to peace, health, economic and spiritual progress in our beloved Mississippi.
This episode features Halima Salizar and Dria Price of Justevia Teas in Watervalley, Mississippi with a focus on their beloved food and medicine plants, their work, and the ways the food cultures of West Africa and the Southern US mirror each other. They grow, harvest, dry, and package their tea blends at their farm, and they host pop-ups with local restaurants featuring Nigerian foods. They also grow the seeds of Nigerian vegetables as well as heirlooms from Mississippi and Alabama for the Truelove Seeds catalog.
In this episode, we hear from Señora Iris Brown of Loíza, Puerto Rico, who grew up learning to cook and use herbs from her grandmother and the strong women of her hometown. She came to New York in 1967 for economic reasons, and moved to Philadelphia in 1970 when she fell in love with the back yards here. She said “I saw the possibilities of planting flowers, hanging a hammock, and looking at the stars!!”
In the 1980s, she and her friend Tomasita Romero co-founded Grupo Motivos, a collective of Puerto Rican women that worked with West Kensington residents to establish the historic and award-winning Norris Square gardens on many blighted, vacant properties that had been used for selling drugs. Now part of Norris Square Neighborhood Project, these spaces are filled with life and beauty and Puerto Rican culture.
In this fifteenth episode, Amirah Mitchell of Sistah Seeds gives us a tour of the African Diasporic seed crops on her farm in Emmaus, PA. She also describes her work to preserve seeds and stories of African-American, West African, and Afro-Caribbean foodways, how she got to this point, and where she is headed. Amirah worked for four years as an apprentice and coworker at Truelove Seeds, and we are so grateful for our continued collaboration as she embarks on the next phase of her work as a farm owner, seed keeper, educator, and inspiration to so many.
Akoth Ambugo spends part of her year back home in her family's rural villages in Kenya and part of her year in the United States as a nurse and gardener. While in the US, she is learning to keep seeds, grow nutritious food, and feed the soil. She hopes to revive traditional indigenous crop varieties and farming practices that are more in tune with the land and the health of the people.
Chris Keeve is a former Truelove Seeds apprentice and current seed grower in Kentucky who drove out for our annual Truelove growers gathering at our farm on October 22nd, 2022 to deliver seeds and conduct interviews for their dissertation: the Truelove Seeds Listening Project. With Truelove business manager and web wizard Sara Taylor recording the audio and interjecting occasionally, they talked to growers about their involvement in our network, including occasional seed stories, testimonials, suggestions, and which seeds they'd bring to another planet. This episode is a compilation of some of the interviews.
EP. 18: Dragged Through the Garden: Thai Food and Chicago Hotdogs with Heidi Ratanavanich and Family
Heidi Ratanavanich invited their mom, Mae Sue, and aunties Na Na, Na Urm, and Na Toy from Thailand and Chicago to cook traditional Thai foods together for their Philadelphia friends and family and to visit their traditional foods growing at our farm. We were also able to talk about the family hotdog stand, Al's Drive-In, which serves hotdogs and Thai-inspired Chinese food. We are grateful to have recorded these beautiful moments with them for this episode!
Heidi is a visual artist, carpenter, and educator. Heidi is interested in the intersection of food sovereignty, Thai/Chinese diaspora, ecology and economy. They are involved in the collectives FORTUNE and Television. Heidi apprenticed at Truelove Seeds for a season, tending to Thai and Chinese based plants with a special focus on Kra Praow (Thai Holy Basil) saved from their mom's home, Sappaya, Thailand. They were also part of a team that re-opened a small take-out corner store in West Philly called Golden Dragon. Golden Dragon will be closing its doors this month, though Heidi plans to continue their food sovereignty work and personal journey with ancestral food, including growing a Chicago-Style hotdog garden in 2023 with Zhong Shu Tomatoes, Thai white cucumbers, Chinese Celery, Sport Peppers, and more.
In November 2022, we visited Father Tom Mullaly at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Greenville, Mississippi. Chris's mother Mrs. Demalda Bolden Newsome grew up in this church, as did her family going back three generations. Chris was born and baptized there as well. Father Tom grew up on his Slovak family's farm in the summers, raising food for their winter pantry. For the past 50 years, he has been a pastor in southern Black Catholic churches, keeping gardens in community along the way. In our conversation, Chris and his mom also talk about the importance of the Black Catholic church to their family and community.
In late February 2023, Annabel Rabiyah and Amanda Chin of the Iraqi Seed Collective visited the Truelove Seeds office to help fill the first packets of Iraqi Seed Collective seeds (Iraqi Reehan Basil, grown by Experimental Farm Network), and prepare some of their other collectively-grown seeds for germination testing. We took the opportunity to record conversations with them about Annabel's work with Awafi Kitchen, which focuses on preserving traditional Iraqi Jewish food, and about their seed collective, which works with a wide array of gardeners and farmers from Iraq and the Iraqi diaspora in the US. At the end of this episode, you will hear from several other collective members who sent short phone recordings about their transformative moments being part of the collective, as well as a recording Annabel sent after returning from their family's first trip back to Iraq in 50 years. The episode begins with answering some listener questions about growing and cooking Mustard Greens, dealing with the Squash Vine Borer, and shelling peas with kids.
This episode features Nital Vadalia-Kakadia. Originally from the state of Gujarat in Western India, Nital has been fascinated by farming and food since she was a child on her family’s farm in India. These days, she tends to beautiful gardens filled with her ancestral Indian vegetables and herbs, as well as lush native pollinator plants, fruit trees, and cut flowers at her family’s home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, not too far from our home in Philadelphia. She has introduced us and our community to many Indian seeds and so it was great to have this chance to visit her home and speak with her about her life, her beloved food plants, and even get a chance to share a delicious meal featuring bindhi, guar, curry leaves, amba, and so much more.
You will also hear a couple voice recordings from Truelove Seeds apprentice Tika Jagad and her father Mr. Krutarth Jagad. And at the end, our son Bryan asks Nital and Dinesh’s son Soham a couple questions about his favorite traditional foods.
Dr. William Woys Weaver is an internationally known food historian and author of 22 books including:
- Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master Gardener’s Guide to Planting Seed Saving, and Cultural History;
- 100 Vegetables and Where They Came From, and
- As American As Shoofly Pie: The Foodlore and Fakelore of Pennsylvania Dutch Cuisine
Dr. Weaver lives in the 1805 Lamb Tavern in Devon, Pennsylvania where he maintains a jardin potager in the style of the 1830s featuring over 5,000 varieties of heirloom vegetables, flowers, and herbs. He is an organic gardener, a life member of Seed Savers Exchange, and for many years served as a Contributing Editor to Gourmet, Mother Earth News, and The Heirloom Gardener.
From 2002 to 2010, he lectured on Food Studies at Drexel University and is presently lecturing on regional American cuisine in connection with a non-profit academic research institute organized under the name The Roughwood Center for Heritage Seedways. Dr. Weaver received his doctorate in food ethnography at University College Dublin, Ireland, the first doctorate awarded by the University in that field of study.
In the winter of 2013, Owen had just moved to Philadelphia. A friend introduced him to Dr. Weaver and he hired him to care for his gardens and the Roughwood Seed Collection. During his four years working with him, Owen was fascinated by slow walks through the garden where he could reveal 10,000 years of human history in each plant story. It was here that Owen first learned how to carefully select and midwife the seeds of these countless storied species. We started a seed catalog and grew for a couple other companies. Dr. Weaver’s work with seeds often connects and reconnects gardeners and farmers with seeds that help tell their own stories. One of the best examples is making the Horace Pippin peppers available to African American growers in the Mid-Atlantic, as well as Pennsylvania Dutch and Lenni Lenape heirlooms from Southeastern Pennsylvania.