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Behind The Conference: Ira Wallace

IRA-confThe 19th Annual Georgia Organics Conference is nearly upon us! In anticipation of the featured In Depth Workshops and Educational Sessions, we reached out to presenters for some additional information about their topic.

In this edition of Behind The Conference, we spoke with Ira Wallace, worker/owner of the cooperatively managed Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which offers over 700 varieties of open-pollinated heirloom and organic seeds selected for flavor and regional adaptability.

Friday In-Depth Workshop
Ira Wallace – Extending the Harvest: Creating a Four Season Garden

Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 from 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Ira will focus on the all season garden, including in-depth succession plating, planning summer crops for fall planting, and bare-root fruit planting for late winter. Read the full session description here.

1. Who or what inspired you to join your field and how?

I grew up gardening with my grandmother in Florida. She had an edible landscape long before the current usage for the term was coined. We had citrus, mangoes, an avocado tree and a big tall pecan tree that leafed out late in spring to provide afternoon shade to our vegetable garden and the chickens. To be truthful, I only remember growing black-eyed peas, okra and sweet potatoes in the hottest part of summer.

My grandmother died the year I graduated from college and I went to a New College a primarily white experimental college. I made up for some of my loss by diving into starting a student garden and later a health food coop.

I have been involved with organic food and coops since. So I say my grandmother led me to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Acorn Community.

     2. What does resilience in farming mean to you?

I work mostly with home gardeners and very small scale farmers. Resilience at that scale is often about feeding your family, taking care of your land and not getting in debt. But to prepare for the very erratic weather and unpredictable markets that are happening now takes more than just diverse crops.

When I was younger I talked a lot about self sufficiency; now a days I think more about cooperation and interdependence. Neighborhoods and small farming communities working together, sharing tools, teaching each other and exchanging goods helping each other to survive and prosper. Just as a dozen people taking on the stewardship of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange has grown to 30 members in our community plus 70 cooperating farms that grow, garlic, potatoes and other seed varieties for the coop.

     early bird     3. What is the toughest aspect of farming, and what helps you get through it?

Tractors and farm machinery! What to buy, how to take care of it? For many city folks like me, the hardware of going from garden to farm is intimidating.

     4. Why are you excited to present about your topic and what are some key takeaways attendees will get from your session?

Growing your own food year-round and seed saving are both passions for me. Having a three hour session allows enough times to touch on adding fruit for diversity in home food production and planning for seed saving in an edible landscape or small garden. The take home for participants will leave the class more knowledgeable about soil preparation, timing plantings, and variety selection for a four season harvest.

     5. What do you see happening in the food system that makes this conference an important one?

As a seed person, the domination and concentration of ownership by petro-chemical giants like Monsanto is a big concern. We don’t have the resources to fight them directly, but we can work to build a new more sustainable organic seed and food system.

Georgia Organics Conferences highlight and educate the good things that are happening in or food system, like more young farmers, farm to school programs, on farm based seed breeding, and regional variety selection. The keynotes inspire us and the workshop sessions educate and connect us so we can move forward.

I was born in the segregated south. My grandmother would take us to marches and encourage us to sit-in and sign people up to vote. She said maybe none of this would change anything, but if we didn’t try for sure nothing would change. Well I can tell you we aren’t there on civil rights yet, but we have come a long way. I have a dream of good seed and access to good food for everyone. Georgia Organics works to make that dream a reality.

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