Saving Seeds, Saving Cultures

This seed-keeping company doesn’t just keep heirloom plants safe from hybridization, it brings ancestral crops back to the people whose cultures kept them alive.

| Spring 2019

Owen Taylor with ‘Landis Winter’ lettuce. Photo by Truelove Seeds.

One small seed company is ready to make a big name for itself by helping growers reclaim and cultivate seeds that reflect their heritage. Launched in December 2017, Truelove Seeds is the creation of Owen Taylor, a seed collector who runs the Philadelphia Seed Exchange and grows open-pollinated seeds, medicinal herbs, and flowers at Mill Hollow Farm in Edgemont, Pennsylvania. The idea for Truelove came during his four years working with world-renowned heirloom seedsman William Woys Weaver at the Roughwood Seed Collection. “I wanted to find a way to share my new knowledge and skills with the food justice communities I’d worked with for the last 15 years,” Taylor says. “I’m committed to supporting community-based solutions to the inadequacies and injustices of the globalized food system.” And he’s fulfilling this commitment through his work with Truelove Seeds.

Aurora Sikelianos gathers with friends to shell peas and beans for Truelove. Photo by Truelove Seeds.

While a focus on community-based solutions has certainly influenced Taylor’s dedication to agroecology and food sovereignty when it comes to the more than 20 small-scale farmers already working with Truelove, the founding principle of the company is even more personal: “We believe it is essential for growers to play a role in preserving their cultural heritage by saving and sharing their own seeds, as well as the traditions and stories connected to those seeds.”

“We ask the farmers to identify crops that are part of their ancestry or that are particularly important to their region,” Taylor says. And therein lies what sets Truelove apart from other seed-saving operations. Not only does 50 percent of every seed packet sale go back to the farmer who grew the crop, but each farm focuses, at least in part, on growing seeds that are connected to their culture. “Kristyn Leach at Namu Farm specializes in growing Korean crops; VietLead’s Resilient Roots Farm focuses on Vietnamese crops; and several farms like Sankofa Community Farm and Soul Fire Farm focus on crops of the African Diaspora.” When he found that Bear Bottom Farm in Virginia was growing the molokhia cultivar of one of their farmer’s Syrian grandfathers, Taylor sent them several seeds of other Syrian cultivars from his own collection. And there are Native American seeds available on the Truelove website; in their descriptions, Taylor has included a call to the people of those tribes to reach out to him if they’d like the seeds rematriated — an Indigenous concept that means “to restore a living culture to its rightful place on Mother Earth.”

Owen Taylor and a group of Truelove apprentices and volunteers harvest ‘Winterspinat Haldenstein’ winter spinach seeds. Photo by Truelove Seeds.

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