Sunday, June 6, 2010

Return of the native, Part 2


During my time in Mississippi, I had a chance to visit a second young farmer -- Horton, the driving force behind Isis Gardens. Like Will, Horton recently returned to his native Tupelo after years of working on farms elsewhere. (In his case, he was returning from Colorado.) He, too, decided that home was calling, that Mississippi was in dire need of chemical-free, responsibly grown food. He, too, moved home and began cultivating a piece of land that had been in the family for years. And yet it was a very different operation from the town's other organic farm.

When Aaron and I stopped by the CSA farm on a Friday afternoon, Horton walked us around the rambling property, excitedly pointing out various cover crops, dozens of heirloom vegetable varieties, the insectary (a plot of land set aside to attract beneficial insects), purple marten houses (to attract bug eating birds), even the inside of the Depression era home he had recently come to inhabit. It was decidedly less structured, and perhaps overgrown in places, but the green space nurtured an abundance of plant and animal diversity quite rare in these parts.

As we took a little rest in the shade of the front porch to sip on cups of cool sun tea, Genevieve joined us and the couple graciously invited Aaron and me to stay for lunch. As we munched on leftover pasta and a giant salad, and sipped on cold beers spiked with chamomile flowers, Horton expanded on his passion for seed saving. As conventional American (and global) agriculture careens at a breakneck speed toward uniformity and productivity, this young farmer remains part of a small but persistent group of growers striving to preserve quality and diversity in our food system. Perpetuating strains of corn and potatoes and beans that are all but extinct. Nurturing tomato and melon varieties from places as far away as war-torn Iraq. (Consider the very real possibility that without heirloom growers like Horton, some of these treasures may be lost forever.)

Now, I know southerners have a reputation for hospitality. I have also found organic farmers to be more welcoming and generous than the general population. Horton espouses the best of both groups, with a ready smile and openness to sharing both food and knowledge. I was just giddy when he sent me away the following afternoon with a big hug and envelopes of heirloom tomato and melon seeds from my dad's native country. I can't wait to get planting, doing my part to keep some of these rare (and delicious) species around a bit longer...

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

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