GET THE 2024 PLANT A SEED KIT
WITH THE PLANT A SEED CAMPAIGN, WE CELEBRATE BIODIVERSITY ON FARMS,
IN GARDENS AND AT SCHOOLs.
Slow Food USA invites growers to engage with climate and nutrition in our gardens and on our plates. Every year, the kit brings together a cast of rare and biodiverse seeds that tell a story. For 2024, we will feature grains and roots. We invite you to ground yourself and connect the dots between soil health, human health and planetary health by exploring roots and grains!
Seven distinctive and delicious varieties, including four Ark of Taste crops, will wow you with their beauty, their abundance and you will not believe how much grain you can grow at a garden scale.
MEET OUR 2024 SEEDS
Click on each image below to learn more!
our goals for this year’s campaign
Ultimately, we aim to bring awareness of how simple acts of growing culturally significant crops in our gardens can impact our climate and nutrition while we learn from the communities who are stewarding them.
PRESERVE BIOLOGICAL AND CULTURAL DIVERSITY
When you think of grains and roots, perhaps the color that comes to mind is “brown” like the soil they grow in, but you will find deep and rich diversity across the seven varieties showcased this year — red carrots, black turnips, scarlet sorghum, purple barley, red beets, straw colored wheat and white corn. Each of these varieties has a role to play in our ecosystem and diet!
EDUCATE, INSPIRE AND MOBILIZE PEOPLE
Every variety featured has so much to teach us, from their interesting stories to their nutritional gifts to their impact on soil and planetary health as we navigate climate uncertainty. We will explore nutrition throughout this campaign and hear from chefs and producers who can help us make the most of the crops in this kit and beyond.
INFLUENCE POLICIES IN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS
What can we do with all of the knowledge these plants will bestow upon us? We will strive to take action when legislation comes around regarding soil like the Soil Health Act of 2024. We will advocate for better nutrition options that help with overall health like choosing whole grains and whole grain flours as well as dietary fiber for regulating blood sugar for overall health.
About artist Yeesan Loh
Originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I am a painter, designer & writer, currently based in New Orleans. My work is a mash-up of two of my passions, art & cooking, and my process is very much inspired by my own curiosity and learning process. Being both left-brained & right-brained, I enjoy researching & analyzing, as much as I do creating visually beautiful things. Art, food & cooking are my love languages and how I connect with the world. They are also universal languages that connect us all.
The Plant a Seed campaign has been a joy to work on. Not only does it involve things that I enjoy painting, it also aligns with my personal mission, making it both a pleasure and honor to be a part of it.
COCKE’S Prolific Corn
Seed source: Sow True Seeds
(115 days) Sow in spring as soon as frost danger has passed, soil temps should be over 65ºF. Sow seeds in well-draining soil in full sun, ½ inch deep and 3 inches apart, rows spaced 12”. Thin the seedlings 8-10” apart once plants are 6” tall. Ears should be completely dry before harvesting kernels.
The story of the Cocke’s Prolific Corn is a rich one. It was historically one of the most cultivated corn varieties due to its high yielding habit and excellent flavor. It was developed in the 1800’s by John Hartwell Cocke and fostered into widespread use by his daughter Lucy Cocke, who marketed it as extremely high quality horse feed. It was this move that launched this corn variety into popularity, and now most modern dent corns have roots in the Cocke’s Prolific genetics. Once corn hybridization and a preference for yellow color took hold, this variety became all but extinct, with growers and food historians searching for it for decades. An Ark of Taste Southeast committee member, Angie Lavezzo discovered a listing of a farmer in South Carolina who was selling seed. Dr. David S. Shields and Angie met and confirmed that Manning Farmer had indeed been stewarding the Cocke’s Prolific Corn for most of his 99 years. Since this rediscovery, It is now commercially available as seed for the first time since 1951, and can be found in mills all over the country being ground into beautiful grits and cornmeal.
Seed source: Seed Savers Exchange and True Leaf Market
(100 days) Sow seeds in well-draining soil in full sun, ¼ to ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart, rows spaced 12-24”. Cover seeds and keep moist, until seedlings appear. When plants are 1½ to 3-inches tall, thin to three inches apart.
The Mangelwurzel beet developed in the 18th century as a fodder crop for livestock that, when harvested young, is an excellent source of nutrition for the farmer as well. The Mangelwurzel is closely related to Swiss chard, and it produces edible, chard-like leaves. The root grows in an array of colors including white, pink, red, orange, golden, and purple or black. It is covered in shallow dimples and comes in different shapes ranging from long to ovoid to spherical.
The Mangelwurzel was grown in England, where the large roots found their way into farm culture because it was difficult to grow corn for livestock. In South Somerset, Norfolk, and Wales, during Punkie Night (celebrated on the last Thursday of October), children carry around lanterns called Punkies which are hollowed out Mangelwurzels. The root has also been used for mangold hurling, a sport that dates back to the 11th century, where participants stand inside a wicker basket and hurl the root as far as they can. The root can also be used to brew a potent alcoholic beverage.
By the late 1800s in the United States, Mangelwurzel was being cultivated on the East Coast. The crop was less sensitive to weather variations, had good tolerance to drought, excellent root preservation qualities, high sugar content, and provided large yields per acre in comparison to other crops. In the cool climate of New England, it was valued as a good alternative to grains.
For a long time, the Mangelwurzel’s primary use was as fodder for livestock, mainly cows, pigs, and chickens. Unfortunately this designation led to an increasingly infrequent appearance on the table. As corn subsidies in the US increased, the economic viability of the Mangelwurzel as a primary food source declined. As a result, this beet has fallen out of favor as both food and feed. However, the Mangelwurzel is an excellent and hardy crop, well suited for human consumption. The roots are tender, juicy, and flavorful when harvested young, which is the ideal harvest time if intended for human consumption. If intended for livestock it is best to let the beet get slightly larger, which increases yield and allows for a juicier crop.
‘Nebur Der’ Sudanese Sorghum
Grown by Chris Keeve for Ujamaa Seeds and the Experimental Farm Network
(120 days) Sow in spring as soon as frost danger has passed. Either start seeds indoors to transplant out when warm, or sow seeds in well-draining soil in full sun, ½ inch deep and 4 inches apart, rows spaced 24-30”.
Sorghum has long been a multi-use crop in Africa for millenia. It has been used in myriad products from beer to popcorn to livestock feed to grain to porridge to non-food uses like building materials. It grows particularly well in arid climates, making it of particular interest as a cover crop for building carbon into soil.
This particular variety of this versatile grain is a cane-and-grain type of sorghum that has been stewarded by the Experimental Farm Network. The ‘Nebur Der’ sorghum is from Malakal, South Sudan, which has been completely depopulated of its indigenous Shilluk people by the ongoing South Sudanese civil war. It’s a tall, robust, productive variety.
Pardailhan Black turnip
Grown by: Bone Mountain Farm/Born to Swarm Apiaries
(60 days) Sow in summer for fall harvests. Sow seeds in well-draining soil in full sun, ¼ to ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart, rows spaced 12-24”. Cover seeds and keep moist, until seedlings appear. When plants are 1½ to 3-inches tall, thin to three inches apart.
The plateau where Pardailhan is situated stands at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level, though it is just 40 kilometers from the Mediterranean. Although vineyards and olive groves are common to this region, the plain of Pardailhan is surrounded by pastures where cows and sheep graze and there are oak and beech forests thick with wild boar. Only 165 people live in Pardailhan, and the ones who still cultivate turnips are very few. Around 30-40 tons are grown annually, much fewer in years when it doesn’t rain enough at the end of August.
The quality of the Pardailhan Black Turnip has been celebrated for centuries. After the Second World War, however, local agriculture slumped and the cultivation of these tubers declined. Only a few producers have conserved the tradition of growing Pardailhan Black Turnips and sell them exclusively in local markets.
Pardailhan Black Turnips are ‘broadcast-seeded’ at the beginning of August on well-worked land with one kilo of seed per hectare and left to wait for rain, which usually comes in the second half of the month. In autumn, the region’s rain and heavy fog are very favorable for the turnip’s growth: in Pardailhan it is said that the turnips ‘drink from their leaves.’ The farmers then handpick the turnips, starting in early November and ending in January.
Pardailhan Black Turnips are white inside, black outside and covered with numerous small roots. They can be recognized by the red clay residue that sticks to their skins. The Pardailhan Black Turnip is a variety called Caluire Long Black, named for its region of origin to the north of Pardailhan.
Pardailhan Black Turnips are beautifully tender with a subtle, sweet flavor, and must always be sliced lengthwise, following the root’s natural fibers. They can be grated raw and tossed in a vinaigrette, fried in goose fat and a little sugar, or prepared in soups and gratins.
Purple Karma barley
Seed Source: Camas Country Mill
(90 days) Barley germinates in cool soil – can plant as early as March and is frost hardy, will do fine with spring snows. Sow seeds in well-draining soil in full sun, ½ inch deep and 1 inch apart, rows spaced 12”.
This Himalayan landrace variety was collected in Tibet in 1924 and spent almost 100 years in a seed bank before being grown in Oregon. It has so much going for it – beauty, nutrition, no hulls. It is easy to grow and has wonderful drought tolerance in addition to being a good yielding crop. For the home gardener, this variety will give you so much confidence at growing grain on the garden scale — especially since it is naturally hulless and you won’t need special equipment to process it before cooking. Purple Karma Barley is extremely nutritious with more zinc than lentils and the highest amount of B vitamins in barleys. Whether you just want to try your hand at growing a cereal grain in challenging conditions or you want beautifully awned barley stalks for cut flower arrangements or you want to include one of the most blood sugar friendly grains to your meal rotation, you’re going to want to get to know this beautiful barley recently revived by the Oregon State Barley Project.
Red fife spring wheat
Seed Source: janie’s Mill
(120 days) Loosen composted soil before scattering 30-40 seeds per square foot, about ½ – 1 inch deep. Water and keep damp until germination. Once wheat has germinated, keep it well weeded until it is large enough to shade out weeds. Harvest, thresh and winnow when seeds are hard.
Red Fife wheat is one of the great success stories of the Ark of Taste. It was once renowned as one of the finest milling and baking wheats and was widely distributed all across Canada’s plains throughout the latter part of the 19th century. It was gradually replaced by hybridized wheat varieties for yields and disease resistance. What they didn’t consider in these developments was losing the exceptional flavor of Red Fife — it is renowned for its exceptionally nutty flavor.
From the early 1900s to around 1988 it survived only in the hands of a few people and Agriculture Canada’s seed bank. Sharon Rempel acquired a half pound of seed from the bank and through her diligence and connections with other Canadian growers, as well as the support of Slow Food, Red Fife wheat is now grown coast to coast not just in Canada, but the US as well.
The formation of the Red Fife Presidium — the only Canadian Presidium — has successfully reintroduced the wheat to bakers and supports the work of farmers growing the wheat to give it an economic market through exceptional hand kneaded artisanal bread sold in bakeries.
Wisconsin Purple Carrot
Grown by: Cultivating the Commons for Experimental Farm Network
(70 days) Carrots take a long time to germinate (sometimes up to 21 days!). It is essential to keep the soil damp so the seeds don’t dry out. Direct seed ¼ to ½ inch deep in a line, with rows spaced 12-18” Direct seed in late April, May, or June. When plants are 1½ to 3-inches tall, thin to one inch apart.
These ruddy, redolent roots embody both historical representation of their forebears as well as contemporary care for the past, respectful consideration for sovereignty and food access! The original wild carrots were white and pale yellow and as they became domesticated 5000 years ago purples and reds started showing up in the roots.
Folklore has tied orange carrots to a Dutch revolutionary named William, Prince of Orange. The story goes that he helped to spur the Dutch Revolt in 1566, leading ultimately to a Dutch Republic free from Spanish rule. To honor the House of Orange, Dutch farmers exclusively cultivated orange varieties of carrots — but this is simply not true according to the World Carrot Museum. Turns out the carrot came first and the independent country second — the Dutch are incredible agronomists and orange carrots simply grew excellently in the Netherlands’ mild and damp climate and were more uniform and reliable, lending them to commercial production. Orange is indeed the country’s national color, and carrots are used in modern times to reinforce national pride, but they were not developed to honor the royal family.
In recent years, the drive to get a colorful carrot onto the scene has captivated seed breeders and many are patented and have intellectual property restrictions. Enter the Open Source Seed Initiative. The Wisconsin Purple Carrot comes from deep consideration by seed growers looking to bring a purple carrot to the people that is a cultivar that is resilient, nutritious and delicious, not to mention stunning in color. This carrot also offers diverse genetics for those interested in saving seeds in addition to growing in your garden or farm fields. The Wisconsin Purple Carrot is a sizeable root with a purple exterior and the interiors can be any combination of purple, orange and white. The tops are vigorous and fluffy.
MEET OUR SEED SUPPORTERS
Every year, the Plant a Seed campaign strives to support small seed companies who represent a diverse community of seed enthusiasts committed to celebrating heirloom, open-pollinated, non-GMO, Ark of Taste, resilient and adaptable varieties. The seed suppliers we use collaborate with like-minded groups and organizations in an effort to provide seeds that are culturally relevant and also emphasize the need for open-pollinated biodiversity as we face the realities of climate uncertainty. The seed suppliers we highlight with this campaign recognize the unique qualities and foodways embodied in the seeds they offer and are committed to sharing these seed stories.