By Maggie Bowling
Seed saving has always been an Appalachian tradition. Travelling through the mountains it seems that most gardeners have a bean variety they call their own. Over the past few years, communities have begun to realize what a treasure trove of seeds is in the mountains, and seed swaps have begun popping up across Eastern Kentucky. These seed swap events attract visitors from across county and state lines to celebrate the self-sufficiency, heritage, nutrition, and taste these heirloom seeds represent.
For one local farmer, these seed swaps weren’t quite enough. Being an “obsessive collector,” Kris Hubbard of Wild Wood Farms increased his seed collection from a couple hundred varieties to several thousand in just a couple of years. At Wild Wood Farms in Knox County, Kris and his family have one of the largest private seed banks in Kentucky. In addition to selling produce at the local Farmers Market, the Wild Wood Heirloom Seed Company offers thousands of rare heirloom, non-GMO, organic varieties of vegetable, herb and flower seeds through in-person and online sales.
Seed companies in the region are hard to come by, but Wild Wood Farms is filling that gap. They also raise and sell plants, dried and fresh herbs, vegetables, corn meal, honey, eggs and cut flowers. Kris and his family also use their farm products to create soaps, salves, creams, lotions, lip balms, and candles.
While the local food movement works to educate consumers about where the food on their plate comes from, Kris takes this sentiment one step further, educating his community about where the seed that grew their food came from. How were the seeds grown? What is the history that brought that particular tomato to your plate? Kris wants to be the farmer and seed supplier “that customers know, that you can see face to face. If you had a problem with your plants you could call us, because you would know us.”
In addition to farming, Kris uses his background in anthropology and ethnobotany to preserve Appalachian and American Indian history and to teach his community about a wide variety of topics including the history, uses, and folklore of many plants.
Kris hopes that “we can appreciate what we have, the unique lifestyle that we lead in Appalachia. We have something that no one else has. Each place on the planet has something special about it, and Appalachia is wonderful. Its set is a beautiful landscape that people from all over the world want to come and see. Hopefully, with our Farmers Market, and even just my seed company, we will help not just to educate, but also help our area economically.”
Kris takes this community involvement to heart as a member of the Knox County Farmers Market Board of Directors, President of the Knox County Simple Living Group, and President and Founder of The Southern Kentucky Seed Society.
Even though Kris spends enumerable hours working the fields, tending his livestock, and volunteering in his community, he still finds wonder in the garden: “There are things that amaze me with farming. One is that you have this seed, this minuscule thing, that is so small you can barely see it, and then it grows into this beautiful life giving object. It is an amazing feeling. When you save a seed you are not only preserving your family’s way of life, but you are preserving history. That is the beautiful thing about heirlooms, there is such a variety.”
If you are looking for a selection of thousands of heirloom, non-GMO, and organic varieties of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds, look no further than your own corner of Kentucky. Find Wild Wood Heirloom Seed Company on their Facebook page, or you can visit them at the Knox County Farmers Market in Barbourville to purchase seeds, plants, vegetables, herbs, and body care products.
Breaking Beans: The Appalachian Food Story Project is an initiative of Community Farm Alliance to tell the story of how local food and farming in Eastern Kentucky can contribute to a bright future in the mountains. For more on the project and the Alliance, visit cfaky.org.