Truelove Seeds is helping preserve and share the heritage that comes with heirloom produce, while also giving 50% of proceeds to the growers.

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Credit: Neal Santos

When Owen Taylor moved to Philadelphia in 2012 to marry Christopher Bolden-Newsome, he was inspired by the city's urban farms—in particular those cultivated by immigrants and refugees. Taylor had years of experience doing food justice work and Bolden-Newsome was a farmer. Together they wanted to find a way to support the efforts of those communities. "I invited people from five Philly farms to come to my kitchen table," Taylor says. Among them were farmers focusing on their ancestral Burmese, Vietnamese, African and African American crops. They brainstormed: What was missing from their work? The answer: A space for growers to tell the stories of their food and medicinal plants—and benefit economically while doing it. He took that to heart and in 2017, Truelove Seeds was born.

What They Do

Sourcing from more than 20 small farms along the Eastern Seaboard, the company sells seeds for heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers— varieties rarely sold in the United States that hold cultural significance for refugees and immigrants. What really sets Truelove Seeds apart? The wealth of historical lore about each variety on its website. Take, for example, the Fish Pepper, so named because Black chefs in Baltimore in the late 1800s used it in seafood dishes. The seeds were given to gardener H. Ralph Weaver in the 1940s and grandson William Woys Weaver found them in a deep freezer decades later. Soilful City, a Washington, D.C., organization working to connect under-resourced people to the land, grows the pepper for Truelove.

Why It's Cool

Recognizing that stories don't put food on the proverbial table, Truelove Seeds gives 50% of the profits from each seed packet right back to the grower. Yet the stories are what matter most, Taylor underscores—especially those of people of color, which have too often been omitted from world and U.S. history. "All of the food we eat has been shaped by human hands. Being able to honor that by talking about those origins is really important to me," says Taylor. He sees the passing down of ancestral knowledge as a form of empowerment and healing, and a step toward food sovereignty—affordable, accessible and culturally relevant food for all.

EatingWell, May 2021