true love seeds

Dorene Pasekoff is another friend who shares my obsession with seeds and special heirlooms. She grows them to order for chefs and veggie lovers at Hill Creek Farm in Pottstown, PA. As we talked about a few different peppers and other garden crops we were planning to grow this year, Dorene mentioned Truelove Seeds.

During the winter months, one of my friends with a gardening obsession is known for asking her husband, “How many seeds do you love me?” So far, her seed orders have never exceeded her husband’s love. (Fingers crossed–those seed catalogs get glossier every year!) Hard core gardeners can relate to this relationship drama: the understanding spouse… the lure of new seeds… the classic love triangle.

Truelove Seeds is Owen Taylor’s seed keeping project. I knew Owen from the Philadelphia seed exchange but I wasn’t familiar with the work he was doing at Truelove Seeds. He has made a huge effort to reconnect many people to foods of their childhood or ethnic foods that for one reason or another have disappeared from their lives. They collect and care for all these seeds to make sure they are available to you next time you’re ready to grow them. That’s true love. Even if you’re not in Pennsylvania, check them out. You might find the seed that will inspire you to make a dish from your childhood or create new, delicious food memories.

True love seeds

“Keeping SEEDS is an act of TRUELOVE
for our ANCESTORS and our collective FUTURE!”

Digging into his own ancestry and that of the other farmers he works with has led the growers at Truelove to tend and keep many special seed varieties, as well as the amazing stories that go with them. These seeds and their stories reach back into many cultures including Italian, British, West African, and Syrian food ways, and are keeping alive and sometimes reviving crops that have important cultural significance, but go far beyond the basic seed selection you can find at most garden stores. You may often hear Owen say “The story is in the seed”, and all you have to do is peek at the descriptions on the Truelove website to get a glimpse into this world and why the stories and rare variety seeds are so important. PIPPIN’S GOLDEN HONEY PEPPER for example, has a long legacy in the black catering community in the Baltimore/Philadelphia area in the early 20th century, “it is one of the many peppers traded by Philly area folk artist Horace Pippin for bee sting (treatments) from H Ralph Weaver’s hives in West Chester in the early 1940s. In a deep freezer, nearly half a century ago, William Woys Weaver found these seeds (as well as those of the Fish Pepper and many others) in labeled baby food jars.”

The Speckled Brown Butterbean, held by Owen’s partner and farmer, Chris Bolden Newsome, at his African focused, Sankofa Farm at Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia.

Owen Taylor exudes love. One look at him embracing a bunch of broccoli rabe plants like they are his children, or leading a workshop for farmers and activists, and you can see that the love he has for seeds and people runs deep. Owen is a long time community gardener, seed saver and food justice activist who’s passion for seed keeping led him to found Truelove Seed Company in 2017. Their seeds, “are grown by more than 20 small-scale urban and rural farmers committed to community food sovereignty, cultural preservation, and sustainable agriculture. This collaboration is an opportunity for growers to share their own seeds and stories and to bring in extra financial support for their food sovereignty and agroecological projects.”

True love seeds

Owen Taylor with a Francois Syrian molokhia plant. (Photo courtesy of Truelove Seeds)

Mossberg’s collaboration with Truelove is his first foray into seed selling. There’s been a learning curve, he says, from knowing the right time to gather seeds to how to process and store them. For example, preparing tomato seeds involves picking the best fruit from the best plants when they’re ripe, and squeezing the seeds into a bucket, then fermenting them and stirring twice a day for four days to a week. Then the seeds need to be cleaned properly, dried in the right environment, and stored.

Seeds for the catalog’s Turkey Craw Bean are grown in partnership with Chelsea Askew, a farmer in Burkeville, Virginia, who comes from a long line of Appalachian farmers. She focuses on storage crops and varietals that do well in her zone and don’t need too much care. “A lot of my emphasis is on … growing the things that are adapting well to the crazy shifts in weather and things that have been selected for this area for quite some time,” Askew says.

Roots in Food Justice & Cultural Heritage

“It’s kind of a resistance to this consolidation and takeover of the seed industry and a way of building resilience,” says Taylor. “The more varieties available, the better chance we have as our climate is changing.”

Fewer people are saving seeds, which means that many older varieties that aren’t valuable to the big seed companies are being lost. Not only does that shift result in fewer choices for farmers and gardeners, but it also puts food systems at risk from lack of diversity.

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As most of the country’s seeds are now sold by a handful of large agribusinesses, access to varietal seeds has become limited. The challenge of finding produce that is central to culturally important dishes is particularly detrimental for immigrants, adventurous eaters, members of various diasporas, and anyone interested in biodiversity and their own culinary heritage.