National Heirloom Expo

Squash cornucopia in the exhibit hall

One of the recent events that Southern Exposure attended is the National Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa, CA.  This is quite the trek for us, but it’s rare to be able to connect with a group of individuals and organizations that are as passionate about preserving genetic and heritage diversity as we are, striving to instill a deep appreciation of traditional, regionally adapted food sources.

Our exhibit of heirloom tomatoes

Although we specialize in heirloom seed adapted to the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, when I set up our exhibit of heirloom tomatoes, I was pleased to see how well our many of our varieties do in this climate.  A big thanks to local tomato extraordinaire Tamara for generously providing us with tomatoes – with her help, we won 2nd place in the exhibit!

Sculptural muskmelon lantern

In our booth, I enjoyed talking with passersby about the value of saving your own seeds, including the ability to select the most desirable traits for your area. Many food advocates are beginning to understand the allure of seed saving: slowly, over time, tailoring a variety to have a unique profile of characteristics, including taste, appearance, resistances to disease, ease of harvesting and preserving, and the less quantifiable satisfaction of building regionally food heritage.

Multi-melon sculpture

We also staffed a booth for a long-time ally the Organic Seed Growers And Trade Association (OSGATA), helping to raise awareness about the importance of preserving organically sourced seed and the create a resilient and decentralized food system.

Giant pumpkin delivered via forklift

 As someone who has been intermittently involved in food activism for a number of years, I offered to do a presentation highlighting community models that are building the food justice movement.  The organizations that I featured focus on one or more of the following: promoting and supporting young and beginning farmers, building a local economy, using ecologically conscious gardening techniques, helping empower marginalized populations, and working to alleviate food deserts, which includes components of education, affordability, and proximity to healthy fresh food.  Special thanks to Renew Richmond, Allegheny Mountain School (AMS), and the Anti-oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA) for taking time out of their day to do an interview with me, along with the Greenhorns and the Agrarian Trust for all the inspiring work they do to bring strength and cohesion to the young farmer movement.

Evan of the Farmer's Guild

After my talk, I was pleased to meet many speakers and attendees who contribute to the work of food justice.  I met Evan Wiig, who helped found the Farmer’s Guild, which is a network for young a beginning farmers who meet on a monthly basis to share knowledge and resources.  Only several years in existence, the Farmer’s Guild is already in 7 locations throughout Northern California.  I decided to hear Evan talk about the Farmer’s Guild, and was quite impressed – passionate and motivated leaders such as Evan are what we need to send the young farmers forward into the future as a thriving movement.  Cross your fingers for him doing a presentation at next year’s Heritage Harvest Festival!

Cathryn of the Ceres Community Project


Next, I met Cathryn Couch with the Ceres Community Project, which serves hot, organic meals to individuals and families who are dealing with serious illness, prepared by youth in the community.  The way Kathryn sees it, all youth are “at-risk” youth if they don’t find a sense of belonging.  Clients are often so appreciative of these meals, that they come and thank the youth who prepared them personally, and consequentially, some of the youth have participated in the project for four years now.  This is an example of how food can intersect so many areas – health, the environment, youth empowerment, and a social safety net maintained by community members, for community members, just to name a few.

Passing on the treasury of knowledge

Happily surrounded by heirloom enthusiasts, I met the expo coordinator, Paul Wallace, who told me about how this year they’re having the Education & Fun Day seriesfor kindergarten through high school aged kids.  There, they’ll have activities including “be a farmer for a day,” name that veggie, potato sack races, probiotic mud balls, seed ball making, seed saving, and worm bin exploration. He’s expecting over 2,000 kids from surrounding schools to attend.  Although school gardens are gaining traction throughout the nation, the effects of more garden based curriculum such as this could be tremendous, with more and more people of generations to come interested in and connected to their food source.

Ira Wallace, expert gardener and seed saver

Last but not least, I met Arno Hesse and Samantha Dweck with Credibles, an umbrella project of the Slow Money movement where consumers can pre-pay for their years’ worth of groceries from their favorite food provider, helping local food-related businesses access capital for growth.  This program as an intersection of slow food and slow money, where the vital backbones of a more just society – food and the economy – grow in tandem.  Southern Exposure Seed Exchange will be attending upcoming Slow Money Conference in Louisville.  Join us there to hear seed saver extraordinaire and co-manager of Southern Exposure Ira Wallace talk about seeds and diversity.

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Kids enjoying veggies

Little Elan’s enthusiasm for working in the garden is adorable.

He was helping us transplant broccoli the other day…

…and Fionn came to visit. We decided show him around.  We took a little walk with both kids in the garden.

Our cattle panel trellis with asparagus beans can be enchanting even for an adult, so we weren’t surprised that Fionn liked it.

Elan showed Fionn the Sweet Genovese basil.

…which he seemed to prefer over Dark Opal Basil. Or maybe he just wanted to compare them more closely.

Roselle leaves also made for a tasty treat…

…and ground cherries are Elan’s favorite.

The Perfection peppers were a hit, too.

When Fionn ran off between the tomato cages, Elan was holding a Doe Hill Golden Bell pepper

And later they shared it while they played on the tractor.  With our garden, it’s fun and easy to get our kids to eat vegetables.

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Winter Squash as Summer Squash

Your winter squash plants may be ready to provide you with a second vegetable you didn’t expect – summer squash.  Last year we cut up, stir-fried and ate a young, tender fruit from our friends’ seed crop of Seminole winter squash.  It was delicious, with an agreeable texture, and a rich, buttery taste.  Then we harvested several young squash from our winter squash variety trials, and they all tasted similarly great!  In fact, they tasted better than most summer squash do!  It can be a challenge to find the young squash under the large green leaves and sprawling vines; however, if you plan ahead, small-fruited varieties of squash can be trellised, making it easier to find the young fruits.

Young Seminole winter squash cooked as a summer squash

Growing regular summer squash can be easy, but in many parts of the Southeast, the plants are susceptible to squash vine borers, which can kill a previously healthy plant in a day.  Thus many gardeners and organic farmers get abundant harvests for a period of time, and then little or even nothing.  Luckily there are several ways of dealing with this problem.  However, at this point in the year, if you’ve neither planted successions, nor meticulously pulled vine borer larvae out with tweezers, you might or might not have a lot of summer squash plants left.

Four types of squash in the moschata species, harvested young and ready to be cooked as summer squash

Squash varieties fall into four main species – pepo, maxima, moschata, and argyosperma. Moschatas and argyospermas are resistant to squash vine borers. Pepos and maximas are susceptible.  Most summer squash are pepos, but many winter squash are moschatas.  One traditional summer squash, Tromboncino, is a moschata.  We list the species of each of our squash varieties just after the variety name.  You can also use edible gourds as a summer squash substitute.

The ways you can use a squash are endless, whether it’s mature or immature – and whether it’s a pepo or a moschata or another species.  You can stir-fry them with other vegetables, or by themselves.  You can deep-fry them or bake them.  You can turn them into soup.  You can stuff them.  You can grate them into a salad.  You can lacto-ferment them.  You can use them in sweet recipes  – use any of the immature ones like zucchini in zucchini bread, and use any of the mature ones like pumpkins in pumpkin pie.  You can cook the tender shoot tips as well as the fruits (though I found the long tendrils to be rather bitter and I would remove those next time).

Freshly harvested squash shoots

Squash shoots cooking with eggs

Perhaps around the time of frost you’ll find yourself harvesting a squash that’s too old to use quite like summer squash, and yet too young to cure and store like winter squash.  You can eat those too.  You’ll probably want to peel them first, and scoop out the seeds – the skin and seeds both generally get tough by intermediate stages of maturity.  Then, you can use them either in a winter squash recipe or in a summer squash recipe.

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