Ira Wallace, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange
Occupation: Ira Wallace, a worker/owner of the cooperative Southern Exposure Seed Exchange seed compeny, blogs about gardening in the Southeast. In addition, Ira is a member of Acorn Community, which farms over 60 acres of certified organic land in Central Virginia, growing seeds, alliums, hay, and conducting variety trials for Southern Exposure.
Location: Mineral (Louisa County), Va.
Acorn Community Farm, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, is in a small pocket of Climate Zone 6B within a larger area of Zone 7. With climate change our area has been reclassified zone 7. The growing season, from last frost to first frost is around 167 days.
The period when daylight length is less than 10 hours, and little plant growth occurs, lasts from Nov 21 to Jan 21. This period is referred to by Eliot Coleman as the Persephone Days.
Background: Ira grew up gardening with her grandmother in Florida and carried that interest forward as a student at New College in Sarasota, Fla., studying native plants, starting an organic gardening co-op, and volunteering at the Sarasota, Succulent Society. As a young woman Ira traveled and learned about gardening on a Kibbutz in Israel, a large organic farm in Denmark and a small cooperative community in Canada where she became a certified plantsman in Ontario. In 1984 Ira moved to Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia to pursue the good life growing delicious organic food and herbs. In 1993 helped to found Acorn Community, the home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange where she still lives and works on building a cooperative and sustainable organic seed system for the Southeast.
Ira was one of nine contributors to the Southern SARE-sponsored Saving Our Seeds Project. She presents at events sponsored by the Virginia Association of Biological Farmers (VABF), Virginia Master Gardeners, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), Organic Growers School in NC, the Mother Earth News Fairs, and Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group (SSAWG). Ira was the Mid-Atlantic regional correspondent for the Mother Earth News gardening almanac in the nineties.
Current Projects: Ira Wallace serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is working with OSA to bring more seed growing education and organic variety trials to the Southeast.
She is an organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, a fun, family-friendly event featuring an old-timey seed swap, local food, hands-on workshops and demos, and more. The Festival is quickly growing to become an important regional gathering with over 4,400 attendees in 2011.
Ira presents at a variety of sustainable agriculture conferences in the Southeast including the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Virginia Association for Biological Farming and Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group.
Ira is writing her first book which will be available from Timber Press in December 2013. The working title is Month-by-Month Guide to Edible Gardening in the Southeast: A year round guide to eating fresh from your Southeastern Garden.
Recent Articles/Projects for MOTHER EARTH NEWS: Ira presents on a variety of topics at the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIRS, including Herbs: Plain and Fancy, Fall Gardening, Growing Great Garlic and Perennial Onions, and Seed Saving.
Ira and the team at Southern Exposure organize the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Community Seed Swap and a Tasting Event for Heirloom Tomatoes, Peppers, Melons and Apples at the FAIR in Seven Springs, Pa.
Southern Exposure is working with MOTHER EARTH NEWS to make seed of exceptionally tasty and nutritious 'Floriani Red Flint' grain corn available to gardeners.
5 Favorite Veggie Varieties
1. ‘Green Glaze’ collards
2. ‘Thai Red’ roselle
3. ‘Texas Gourdseed’ grain corn
4. Yellow potato onions
5. ‘Purple-Podded Asparagus’ (yard-long) beans
4 Reasons to Save Seed
1. To preserve diversity
2. To select for plants better suited to our local conditions
3. To save money and maintain control of our food system
4. To promote self-reliance
3 Great Books
1. And I Shall Have Some Peace There by Margaret Roach
2. The Small-Scale Poultry Flock by Harvey Ussery
3. Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier
2 Timeless Quotations
1. “No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the Earth and no culture comparable to that of the garden. ... But though an old man, I am but a young gardener.”
— Thomas Jefferson 2. “A person who undertakes to grow a garden at home, by practices that will preserve rather than exploit the economy of the soil, has his mind precisely against what is wrong with us.”
— Wendell Berry
1 Ultimate Goal
To create sustainable, regional food systems built on cooperative self-reliance that provide safe, healthy food for everyone — starting with home and community gardens.
Other Fun Facts: In November 2011 Southern Exposure was awarded Sustainable Institution of the Year by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) community and named one of the Top 15 Vegetable Seed Companies by MOTHER EARTH NEWS.
More Places to Find Ira on the Web:
An Interview With Ira
MOTHER: What makes gardening worthwhile to you?
Ira: I love eating good food, knowing that I am taking care of a small piece of the Earth, and seeing how our hard, red clay has transformed into rich, brown clay/loam teeming with earthworms. Nothing beats the taste of the first sweet, juicy, vine-ripened tomato or eating just-dug, sugary-sweet carrots.
MOTHER: What’s the big deal about seed swaps?
Ira: There are lots of good reasons for organizing a community seed swap in your area. You’ll likely find free seeds that are well suited to your local growing conditions, along with firsthand advice on how to grow them. You’ll likely meet local people with a shared interest in growing food, protecting the environment and plant biodiversity, and exchanging local knowledge.
MOTHER: What is your idea of a perfect world?
Ira: Every yard would have a food garden and every community would support local, sustainably managed farms. Farming would be a respected profession with equitable pay and benefits. Food that travels long distances would be treated as the luxury that it is. We would all act locally and think globally by using our buying power to support these fair and sustainable systems around the world.