SESE Named Sustainable Institution of the Year by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange was named Sustainable Institution of the Year by the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA) 2012 CFSA Sustainable Ag Awards at the 26th Annual Sustainable Agriculture Conference in Durham, NC.

We are so proud to have been honored along with the farmers, activists and extension agents who "have made outstanding contributions to the sustainable food movement in North and South Carolina and have helped make the Carolinas one of the fastest growing sustainable agricultural sectors in the country."

Read about this year’s other award recipients >>

Cover Cropping for Unpredictable Weather

buckwheat cover crop

We’ve had some very heavy rains this summer, and it’s reminding us why planting cover crops is so important this fall. Cover crops increase the carbon content of our soils through root growth, root sloughing in response to mowing, and when we incorporate vegetative growth into the soil, directly tilling the plants under or composting first.

Soils with higher carbon content drain better, which prevents flooding and keeps our crops from getting “soggy feet.” Water saturated soils create lots of problems for plant growth – they quickly become oxygen depleted, and plants respond by growing new roots to hunt for oxygen. This root growth is costly – it means the plants aren’t growing the greens or fruits we want. And the new roots generally form at the plant base, on the soil surface, where there’s plenty of oxygen available, while deeper roots may die. The result is shallow-rooted plants that are more susceptible to drought and more vulnerable to wind and other disturbances.

Carbon-rich soils are more resilient to dry conditions as well as wet. In addition to increasing soil porosity and drainage, higher carbon content also lets soils hold more water. Deep rooted grasses like rye are especially good cover crops for increasing the carbon content of the subsoil, so that plants can be scavenging deeper water reserves even when the surface layers have dried out.

buckwheat cover cropWell established cover crops will help prevent our soil from being washed away by winter rains, but they also prevent leaching of soil fertility. Nitrogen and other nutrients still available in the soil after summer and fall crops can’t be leached out of the soil by heavy rains when tied up in cover crops like oats and rye.

We plant quick-growing winter rye in most of our fields. We mix hairy vetch with the rye to add nitrogen to the soil, but only in places where the soil won’t be worked until late spring (vetch sprouts now, but puts on most of its growth in late spring). Where we plan to have early spring crops (like potatoes, peas, and early spring greens), we plant Hulless Oats. Temperatures below 10°F kill our oat cover crops in January here, and the residues are easier to work into the soil for early crops. Red Clover, Crimson Clover, and White Dutch Clover are also good winter cover crops, but are slower to establish than other types – so sow clovers at least 40 days before your average first frost.

Good luck with your cover cropping – it’s one of the most important things you can do to sustainably manage soil fertility.


Heritage Harvest Festival 2011

Saturday, September 17th, join us at Monticello
for the 5th Annual Heritage Harvest Festival

Heritage Harvest Festival

We are still seeking volunteers sign up for a shift to get free admission, a festival t-shirt, and our eternal gratitude!

Seed Swap
Brings seeds to share or come to learn at the Seed Swap, with legendary seed savers

Chef Demos
Chef demonstrations from Charlottesville’s booming local foods scene

Tomato Tasting
Tomato, pepper, and melon tastings from local farmers at the Tasting Tent

Kids Activities
Kids activities at the
Master Gardeners’
Roots & Shoots Tent

P. Allen SmithBrian WelchJeanine Davis
Pre-Festival Activities, Friday September 16th, including: Premium Workshops, Special Guest Presentation with Bryan Welch, editor of Mother Earth News, and Grand Preview Dinner & Evening with P. Allen Smith

Tours of Monticello
Tours of the vegetable gardens, flower gardens, and grounds of Monticello

Backyard Revolution
Getting back to our agrarian roots with the Backyard Revolution

Center for Historic Plants
Book signings and plants sales with the Center for Historic Plants

Vendor Demos
Ongoing workshops and demos

Music at the Festival
Local musicians at the 91.1 FM WTJU Music Stage and Rhythms ‘Round Virginia with Kim & Jimbo Cary

Sandor KatzRead about all the free workshops and ongoing activities,
and don’t forget to sign up for premium workshops in advance.

This year we’re lucky to have Sandor Katz, author of Wild Fermentation, giving three premium workshops at the festival. Get tickets in advance for a workshop – Friday beginners, Friday advanced, or Saturday all levels – in making your own naturally fermented pickles, sauerkraut, and more!


$8 in advance; children 5 and under admitted free.
$10 day-of-event tickets available at Piedmont Virginia Community College and Monticello High School.


Piedmont Virginia Community College and Monticello High School

Saving the Past for the Future