making connections: ancestral seeds, with truelove’s owen taylor


AS REGULAR READERS and listeners know, I’ve had a longtime curiosity within the natural seed motion, particularly farm-based corporations that develop at the least a number of the seed they promote and are proud to let you know the place they supply the remainder. I wish to know the place my seed comes from. Currently I’ve had the pleasure of attending to know various new-to-me corporations, together with Truelove Seeds of Philadelphia, whose web site guarantees culturally necessary, open-pollinated seeds to individuals eager for their style of residence. At present’s visitor is Owen Taylor, certainly one 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 bought. (Above, Efo Shoko or Lagos spinach, a form of Celosia.)

Plus: I’m gifting away a few Truelove Seeds present 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 supply a style of residence, with owen taylor



Margaret Roach: Hello Owen, and thanks for making time at this time between packing seed orders madly over there, I wager, huh [laughter].

Owen Taylor: It’s my pleasure. Sure. I used to be printing labels up to date I acquired on this name.

Margaret: I wager. Nicely good. It’s nice to shut my eyes and take into consideration all the gorgeous natural seed going out to the completely satisfied individuals throughout the nation proper now. In order that’s good.

I ought to say we have 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 have been additionally a part of. In order that’s the housekeeping.

So I need to hear a bit 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 yr. 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 forms 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.

Margaret: Oh.

Owen: Yeah. And so we form of acquired our begins on the identical time, partially due to Roughwood Seed Assortment. And so whereas I used to be working there, Dr. Weaver, his deal with seed tales and documenting the histories of meals actually… And in addition the work with caring for these vegetation 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 retaining.

And in order that’s after I determined to come back again to the meals justice motion, work with the farmers that I’ve identified for therefore lengthy, and individuals who I believe are doing wonderful neighborhood work by means of meals and farming, and form 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 advised me after we’ve spoken earlier than, are the individuals for whom they’re the ancestral seeds. So inform us a bit 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 have been sitting, residing in our assortment, and I actually liked with the ability to share them again to their unique keepers.

It began of me pondering, what if the producers of those seeds are the individuals for whom they’re most necessary, and these seeds going residence to the individuals who love them. And in order that was the impetus for what we’re doing.

And so we’re at all times in search of farms which might be culturally rooted to work with, or serving to small farms reconnect with cultures misplaced by means of assimilation, or touring the world over to this land. So Truelove Seeds is so much about sustaining connection, but additionally rebuilding connection by means of seed retaining.

Margaret: Proper. After we spoke for the “New York Instances” story, you talked about to me, for instance, pigeon peas or gandules which might 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 will be one instance, for example, of what you have 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 deal with Afro-Caribbean crops, and have been even contemplating beginning up their very own neighborhood seedbank as a result of there’s a whole lot, actually a whole lot, of neighborhood gardens there. Numerous them are run by Jamaicans, Trinidadians—individuals from the Caribbean.

And so I believed they’d be an ideal collaborator. This undertaking between us could be a approach to push them forwards on their seed-keeping objectives throughout the neighborhood. And they also determined to deal with 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 have been bred… You realize, 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 have now these gandules that folks in varied diasporas… They’re beloved by individuals from components 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 wonderful actually when you consider that, that the seeds, too, have tailored to a brand new residence. Proper? To a unique residence.

Owen: And once more, due to somebody, an Indian man who needed them to be out there right here on a unique continent.

Margaret: Yeah. Yeah. You may have an African Diaspora Assortment of seeds, a complete number of seeds, that folks can flick through on the web site. Sorghum and sesame and different issues. Possibly we might discuss that.

Owen: Positive. Nicely, within the very starting of Truelove, we collaborated with many farms, particularly domestically, and most of them have 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 vegetation from each West Africa, the place the vast majority of Black individuals in america come from, in addition to from the American South. And so he form of helped me take into consideration learn how to create a group like this.

However then by means of our work over the past 5 years, we have now individuals on employees who even have a deal with the African diaspora, together with my coworker, Amirah Mitchell, who’s about to launch her personal African diasporic seed farm north of 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 have now a specific deal with working with Black farmers. We work with farmers from all around the world, together with totally different components 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 attractive 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 feature 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 have now companions additionally from Nigeria, who ship us seeds so as to add to the gathering. However then it’s additionally well-liked with African Individuals due to the quantity of African American heirlooms we have now in there that will not have been present in West Africa, however have develop into necessary over the past 400 years right here.

Margaret: Sure. So that you talked about the phrase “eggplant,” and you’ve got what might qualify because the craziest eggplant I’ve ever seen within the catalog [laughter]. Not essentially in that assortment, however I believe it could be one thing newish. I believe it’s the darkish pea eggplant. It appears to be like like a bit 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 known as ka. I imply, at the least from the individuals who I discovered about it from. We work carefully 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 wonderful to work with, as a result of they grew up as subsistence farmers and have nonetheless the reminiscence of their conventional meals. And so they’re looking for them out with wonderful 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 acquainted with… The eggplant most of us who’re in all probability listening eat are the eggplants which might 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 well-liked 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 title to explain it, however it’s actually simply known 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 drugs 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 Trade this yr of the identical species, and it was the tallest plant on our farm. It was in all probability 12 ft 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 so much 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 incredible wanting. I imply, you’ll by no means guess it was an eggplant, so it’s form 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 neglect the place—I believe he acquired it from Arche Noah, or Noah’s Ark, in Austria, however I’m not constructive. It’s a spinach that could 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 acquainted with their spinach.

However yeah, it does very effectively over the winter. So we even have it within the floor now at our farm, underneath plastic row cowl, for it to go forward and dimension up within the spring after which make seeds for subsequent yr’s catalog in the summertime.

It’s scrumptious. It’s form of like a nutty taste. It appears to be like so much 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 certainly one of your collections I believe actually speaks to the truth that, particularly presently of yr, you understand, we’re within the winter, we’re hungry pondering ideas of spring and summer season and planting the backyard and so forth. And we neglect after we’re purchasing, a variety of us—even skilled gardeners—neglect 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 type of crops that may be accomplished, whether or not it’s with safety, like excessive tunnels or low tunnels or row cowl or no matter. So let’s simply discuss a few of these, as a result of there’s some nice ones in there.

Owen: Positive. Yeah. My favourite is the ‘Landis’ winter lettuce [above], which is a really hardy lettuce. It’s form of a butterhead sort, crispy and scrumptious. You realize, a part of the rationale we have now this complete assortment is we collaborate with Tobacco Street Farm in northeastern Connecticut, only a city over from the place I grew up. They’re buddies 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 yr spherical, and so they’re in a specific 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 believe, for Maryland winters, after which they chose additional for Connecticut winters.

Additionally 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 could let 75 % of it die from the chilly. And the following yr it’s solely 50 %. And the following yr it’s solely 25 %. So that they’ve chosen this winter-hardy mizuna, landrace they name it.

So we put these within the assortment for different people who 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, just a few 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 can plant them in late February or March, and have them fairly early within the season nonetheless.

Margaret: And you’ve got flowers. You may have herbs. It’s not simply greens, I imply, not simply edibles. You may have flowers. I believe 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 believe, final week. We’re really landless in the meanwhile. Now we have two years at our land due to our buddy, Linda Clark, who grew this for us. We’re renting from a flower farm. And since we’re there day-after-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 will be a fantastic providing within the catalog as a result of you should use it, such as you stated, each as a minimize flower and as this decorative seed pod.

There are nigellas which might be used medicinally as effectively, however this isn’t certainly one of them. We have been simply enthusiastic about it as a result of it’s so stunning and weird wanting.

Margaret: I believe one of many different ones that caught my consideration, I believe at this time I noticed it and perhaps it’s even bought out already. It’s an enormous marigold. I don’t know learn how 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 footage of it earlier than—I believe Peace Seeds, Alan Kapuler out in Corvallis, Oregon, I see that he labored with it, and I believe 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: However it’s no minuta plant, that’s for positive [laughter].

Owen: No. It’s taller than us.

Margaret: Yeah.

Owen: It’s grown particularly in Peru and different components of the Andes for its edible leaf. It’s a culinary herb that’s made right into a paste form of like pesto, I suppose, with a completely totally different taste. It’s additionally known as black mint or the black mint paste, and it’s utilized in a variety of the signature Peruvian dishes, together with ocopa.

And it’s a very stunning plant. We really use it as a minimize 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 yr.

Margaret: Yeah. That’s a fantastic 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 a number of the different Andean crops all collectively.

Margaret: O.Okay. So I discussed firstly that you just form of promised in a number of the catalog language and so forth that folks with type of a cultural connection to sure vegetation, and in search of “the style of residence” so to talk, and you’ve got a specific curiosity, I believe personally, in a number of 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 at all times attempting to make the reconnection, despite the fact that they didn’t go it down by means of the generations, to the Italian backyard and the Italian desk. I imply, I keep 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 known as Napoli Pizza and be like, “I’m from that area, too.”

After which I’ve gotten a variety of concepts for vegetation to develop from this Neopolitan man at this pizza store. And folks have emailed us. I acquired an electronic mail from somebody from Southern Connecticut, the place my mother and father are from, saying, “Hey, I really like the way in which you discuss your Italian grandparents. I’m going to ship you some seeds.”

Margaret: Oh!

Owen: And so it’s been superior to reconnect with these vegetation, but additionally join with Italians, and get a bit bit extra of a way of myself and my household by means of these relationships.

It’s the identical with Irish crops as a result of I’m additionally Irish. However it’s been extra fruitful with Italians, as a result of the totally different histories of colonization. Numerous Irish individuals have been rising for English clients, and so they have 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 have now an Italian assortment, and hopefully by means of our varied growers and coworkers may 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 most effective tomato. I do know there’s extra paste tomatoes on the market. However I develop it yearly. This yr, I put up over 50 quarts of sauce in my basement from harvesting the seeds after which making tomato sauce. So I’ll at all times develop that one.

Margaret: Yeah. No, it’s a star, for positive. Are there type of some that we haven’t talked about that you just’re enthusiastic about that you just to form 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 yr?

Owen: Oh, you understand, I haven’t even counted.

Margaret: Within the a whole lot, is it not?

Owen: I’d say positively within the a whole lot. 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 persons are enthusiastic about, or something you need to type of shout out?

Owen: Positive. 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 components 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 acquired crimson and white stripes on the seeds. Now we have, once more this yr, the Cucuzza gourd [below], it’s a Sicilian or Southern Italian gourd that perhaps persons are acquainted with, again in inventory. And I’ve simply fallen in love with it over the past couple years.

Margaret: Has a variety of character that does.

Owen: It actually does. I suppose you want some house for it. It grows actually, actually lengthy and tall, and climbs, and makes you understand, 3-, 4-, 5-foot lengthy fruits that cling. And so they’re scrumptious after they’re picked a bit bit youthful than that.

Yeah. There’s so much. It’s arduous to choose. Now we have one other Horace Pippin… I don’t know if persons are acquainted with Horace Pippin, the African American artist from the flip of the final century. Now we have a number of of his varieties within the catalog, and we’re including one other one this yr known as ‘Outdated Pepper Pot,’ which is a really Philadelphian pepper that certainly one 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 approach, too.

Margaret: Heaps happening over there.

Owen: Yeah.

Margaret: Heaps happening. A basement stuffed with seeds.

Owen: That’s the way it goes. Yep.

Margaret: I’m so glad you can 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 photographs 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 yr 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. Hear domestically 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).