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Seed savers are preserving the legacy of collard greens

Posted at 1:21 PM, May 04, 2022

Acorn Community is is a 72-acre certified organic farm.

Founding member Ira Wallace says it's a place where all the members live equally among each other, benefitting from their seed company called Southern Exposure Seed Exchange.

"We try to preserve a lot of seeds," Wallace said. "We offer over 800 varieties, many of them being ones that we're the only stewards of."

In today's world, Wallace says seed saving has become essential.

"We were a nation of farmers," Wallace said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the number of farms in the U.S. has shrunk from about 6 million to 2 million over the past 75 years. With not as many farms, diversity among crops has been waning.

One vegetable in particular really has Wallace's attention because of its cultural significance.

"I love collards!" Wallace said. "Collards were a specialty in the South. And a lot of farm work in the South was done by African Americans."

Wallace is among a group of seed savers, farmers, activists and academics, known collectively as the Heirloom Collard Project. Their goal is to preserve collard varieties and their culinary heritage. Bonnetta Adeeb, who lives in Maryland, is also a part of that group.

"It's redemption song, my friend," Adeeb said. "It's all a way for us to get back to to our culture, to reclaim it, to rebuild our communities using better practices, safer practices."

Some of Adeeb's earliest memories involve gardening. She says her family has been farming in the U.S. since 1710, which is why she's so passionate about passing on knowledge and seeds from one generation to the next.

"So much of the African American contribution to agriculture has been erased," Adeeb said.

The Heirloom Collard Project won't let that happen with collard greens.

"The collard is an African American vegetable, and among lost traditions, collard is one of the ones that has held on," Adeeb said.

Collecting seeds from people across the country, they're growing back the diversity of the nutrient-rich and inexpensive vegetable that can be cultivated all year round.

"We have had access to over 60, but the more that we do it, guess what?" Wallace said. "The more of them that come out of the woodworks, sometimes out of someone's refrigerator or freezer where they've been for ten years."

Wallace says they're continuing the legacy of collards and the hard work of their ancestors.

"I'm telling that untold story," Wallace said. "I'm helping people like me to be a part of the story of food and farming in this country."