North America: a cauldron of diversity, a melting pot of culture and downright packed with rich history. From the Pacific to the Atlantic, North America unifies a beautiful blend of people from around the world. Along with the unique music, food, arts and ingenuity, this country also holds an ambition to keep preservation alive.
The breathtaking beauty of the rolling, fog-covered mountainous hills of Appalachia is as equally astounding as the spirited individuals who are taking on the role of caretakers for the region. The hauntingly beautiful sounds of the banjo and the grit associated with hill dwellers paints a picturesque image of Appalachian culture and the deep roots way of life.
When it comes to heritage food varieties, there has been a significant rise in the desire to keep heirloom seeds protected. In the Appalachian hills of Pikeville, Kentucky, one group of pioneering individuals are leading a movement. The folks that put on the Appalachian Seed Swap are committed to preserving heritage varieties of vegetables, fruits and herbs and are leading the way in promoting seed sovereignty, preserving biodiversity, keeping hope alive and honoring generations before us.
Joyce Pinson has been advocating the good food movement for several decades. Joyce co-founded the Appalachian Seed Swap along with Charlie Pinson, Neil Hunt, and Cathy Rehmeyer, all active with the Pikeville Farmers Market, where farmers are proud to retail heirloom vegetables that have been passed down for generations here in the Kentucky coalfields.
Cathy Rehmeyer has done amazing work in the schools, and worked hard to help local farmers in several counties understand that four season gardening through the use of low-tunnels is not only doable, it is a low cost investment as compared to high tunnels — making it more easily implemented on limited budgets.
Joyce Pinsons life’s work has made huge impacts on her local community. For decades, she has been active in her community in ways such as helping to build the Appalachia Proud Brand, bringing success to the Appalachian Foodways Summit, and assisting in getting the farmers market into a brick and mortar location. Joyce has played a tremendous role in supporting local farmers, advocating for local fresh food and being a voice in her region.
Joyce is working on a documentary about Appalachian Seed Saving. In her interview with Mark Lynn Ferguson of The Revivalist, Joyce recalls, “My favorite is filming oral histories. I set up in a back room, and people come and tell me their stories. Who grew their seeds. How they lived. How they came to have these beans, corn, tomatoes, squash. How they stored the seed. How the food was prepared. Why this vegetable is so special to them. Why they are sharing something that, at one time, would have been guarded as a family treasure. The answers move me. Inspire me. There is an agricultural renaissance going on in Appalachia, and for the first time in a long time, the older generation and the younger generation are having important exchanges. Older folks offer wisdom; younger folks offer unbridled enthusiasm. Food brings them together at a common table.”
Joyce is a coordinator for the Gardens Across America Project founded by Joseph Simcox, The Botanical Explorer. A project is gaining ground as individuals throughout each state are show interest in participating in this fascinating project. According to Joseph Simcox, “There is a beautiful mystique associated with Appalachia. These ancient hills house a blend of cultures which have been steeped in American folk tradition, self-sufficiency and respect for the environment. Appalachia has always been the traditional Heart of America and so many of its sons and daughters have influenced America in ways that we have now forgotten.”
The Appalachian Seed Swap plays such a vital role in preserving that heritage. Last years seed swap drew in a huge crowd.
This year marks the 4th-annual Appalachian Seed Swap. It occurs annually the first Saturday in April. This year it takes place on Saturday, April 2nd. It is a volunteer initiative with financial support from the Pike County Extension Service.
According to Pinson, their mission is to “raise awareness of the unique Appalachian varieties we once took for granted, but now have become scarce. An example would be the Harless Creek Farmer 'Brown-White Cushaw'. This winter squash variety was nearly lost during devastating floods several years back. History was Farmer Brown grew acres of this selection because it was a good winter keeper. He presented his prized cushaws to neighbors for Christmas gifts. It is a local favorite.
"Through this effort, we have brought generations together and the seed legacy of Appalachia is being passed along with great enthusiasm. Our first swap saw 125 or so folks, last year it was on Easter weekend an there was local flooding yet we had 400 folks attend. This year we look for 600.”
Noted seed savers attending this event include Bill Best, Frank Barnett, Roger Postley, and botanical explorers Joseph Simcox and his brother Patrick. Pinson eagerly announced, “The event commences with the ceremonial cutting of the cushaw at 9 o’clock am and seeds will be given out straight from the guts. It is a serious ritual!”
Attendees may buy, sell or trade seeds. Attendees are welcome to come even if they don’t bring seeds. Several classes are offered throughout the day. The KSU Mobile Processing Unit (a commercial kitchen on wheels, pull into the fields and make pickles, jams, sorghum, etc. in an approved facility) will be on hand.
Tammy Horn, author and Kentucky Apiarist will be doing a presentation. Patrick Simcox, a botanical explorer, will also be giving a presentation. There will be several hundred exciting varieties of seeds to choose from. Pinson exclaims, “Beans are king. Many varieties of Greasy Beans will be available (meaty green beans that have a slick hull...thus "greasy"). Tomatoes are favored including Purple Dog Creek, Big Sandy Italian, Ciero Blackburn's, Barne's Mountain and more. Cushaws of all shapes and sizes are always sought out.”
Lodging: Hampton is the official hotel for the event with a negotiated rate if reserved by March 21st.
Tours: Friday and Saturday at 4pm, there will be Hatfield-McCoy tours at 4. (Home sites, gravesites, the museum).
Also at the Appalachian Seed Swap: Anthony B. Rodriguez will unveil his Film The Edible Side in a world premier at the Appalachian Seed Swap that will document the travels and explorations of Joseph and Patrick Simcox as they search the world identifying the plants that will be the future of food.
The Edible Side is a compilation of scenes from expeditions and encounters that Anthony has gathered that portray a little known world of food. The history and traditions of food plants go back thousands of years. The knowledge of these plants is often endangered, because the people who know about them are dying off and young people everywhere are losing this knowledge because they are more persuaded by global pop culture than their own ancient traditions.
Anthony does an amazing job presenting the efforts of the Simcox boys and builds a story that makes all of us aware of what we risk to lose. At the end the note is emphatic and positive, by using and tending nature sensibly we all can give a bright future to our children.
Crystal Stevens is the assistant head farmer at La Vista CSA Farm in Godfrey, Ill., where she manages the greenhouse, designs and updates the website, writes for the newsletter and handles communication between shareholders and the farm. She cofounded the Missouri Forest Alliance with her friend and long-time environmental activist, Jim Scheff. Read all of Crystal's MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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