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Keeping seeds, sharing seed stories
Mehmet Oztan, Service Assistant Professor

Seedy Talks

Seedy Talks is a speaker series that I initiated and have been organizing since Spring 2019. The event focuses on topics related to environmental and food justice, seed sovereignty, story telling, and food and farm traditions of underrepresented minoritized communities.

Some talks in the series were funded by West Virginia Humanities Council, various departments across the Eberly College of Arts & Sciences and me until 2021. Since 2021, event series has been sponsored by the Dean's Office at the Eberly College.

You can find the list of the past speakers below:


Dr. Jonathan Hall hunting in Lost Creek, WV (Photo Credit: Mike Costello)

“There is a tension between an “American ideal of a color-blind national identity” and the identity of [People of Color], such as African Americans whose history and experience does not fully jibe with current values and beliefs.” -From Dr. Carolyn Finney’s Black Faces, White Spaces

About the talk

American parks and wilderness that white Americans enjoy for their recreational activities and hunting can be painful spaces for Black people. Statistics of land ownership and access also directly speaks to this pain. In 1920, there were 14 percent land-owning Black farmers across US. Today only 1.4 percent of US farms are controlled by Black farmers. Similarly, only 2 percent of the hunters in the country are Black.

In the sixth installment of Seedy Talks, sponsored by the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences at WVU, Dr. Jonathan Hall, Assistant Professor of Geography at West Virginia University, will discuss how institutional and environmental racism and dispossession of Black people’s land affects the hunting landscape in the U.S. Mike Costello and Amy Dawson, co-hosts of Pickle Shelf Radio Hour, will join the discussion to share their thoughts on the fifth episode of the podcast: Bigos, Big Does and Hunting While Black, which featured Dr. Hall to explore the relation between race and hunting in the context of West Virginia.

Dr. Mehmet Öztan, Service Assistant Professor of Eberly College will host this event on April 6, at 2:00 p.m. via Zoom.

About the guests

Dr. Hall is a wildlife ecologist by training with a broad interest in wildlife conservation, human/wildlife interaction, environmental justice, and species movement ecology. He founded the Wilderness Geography Lab (previously the Conservation Geography Lab) in 2014 in the Department of Geology and Geography at West Virginia University. The lab currently conducts research in West Virginia, California, Yellowstone National Park, and Rajasthan India. Dr. Hall holds a Ph.D. in Ecology from the Ohio State University and B.S. in Biology from Morehouse College.


Amy Dawson and Mike Costello, Lost Creek, WV

Mike Costello received his B.S. degree from the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism at West Virginia University. Amy Dawson received her B.S. degree from the Department of Geology and Geography and J.D. degree from the College of Law at West Virginia University. Costello and Dawson are story tellers, farmers, seed savers, chefs and co-owners at Lost Creek Farm (Lost Creek, WV), a historic farm and traveling culinary venture that promotes Appalachia’s heritage-based cuisine. They are the co-producers of Pickle Shelf Radio Hour through which they explore West Virginia’s immigrant history, food traditions, and environmental and food justice stories in the state.

Suggested reading

Guests are encouraged to read Dr. Hall’s articles Hunting While Black in West Virginia and Notes from an Angry Black Hunter: Guns, Genocide, and the Stolen Ground You ‘Own’ prior to the event to be prepared for the subject matter. Students and faculty alike are also encouraged to listen the Pickle Shelf Radio Hour’s fifth episode, Bigos, Big Does and Hunting While Black,  and read Dr. Hall’s recent article Wild alternatives: Accounting for and rethinking the relationship between wild game and food security in Appalachian food systems prior to the event.

Noah Schlager

Noah Schlager

About the talk

Flowing springs of the Colorado Plateau have sustained the Native peoples of Arizona where they have lived for thousands of years. In the last 50 years, the coal industry in Arizona pumped billions of gallons of water from the aquifer that supplies drinking water for the Hopi and Navajo Nations. Similarly, the Tohono O’odham and Yaqui Nations in Southern Arizona are struggling with declining groundwater levels.

In conjunction with industrial activities, the climate crisis is escalating in Arizona where summer 2020 had 110 days of at least 100 degrees Fahrenheit, threatening the Native peoples’ lifestyles, farmland and sacred seeds throughout the state.

In the fifth installment of Seedy Talks, Noah Schlager of Native Seeds/Search talked about his work on integrating seed conservation efforts on the lands of Tohono O’odham and Yaqui with the support and development of Native American farmers and their communities in Arizona through a perspective of environmental justice.

About the speaker

Noah Schlager is a Mvskoke-Creek, Florida Catawba/Cheraw, Jewish and Euro-American descendant. His maternal grandmother taught him how to garden, forage and cook foods that have been in his family since his childhood. Out of the passion she and other elders have planted in him, he works to support Indigenous communities’ foodways and relationships to the land.

Schlager received a Master of Environmental Science degree from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His work involved the Indigenous co-management and its engagement with settler-colonial governance systems at the Bears Ears National Monument. He has worked on deconstructing the colonial legacies which have historically excluded Indigenous people from participating in western conservation and on creating space for Indigenous people to have the agency and discretion to practice and share (or not share) Indigenous knowledge around caring for plants and the land.

Schlager is currently the conservation program manager of the Native Seeds/Search, a nonprofit organization in Tucson, Arizona, dedicated to conservation of the drought-adapted crop diversity of the Southwest in support of sustainable farming and food security.

Kristyn Leach

Kristyn Leach

Korean American farmer and seed saver Kristyn Leach was the fourth speaker of Seedy Talks. The series’ fourth installment will took place on Thursday, Nov. 19 at 1 p.m. via Zoom. 

About the talk
In the fourth installment of Seedy Talks, Kristyn Leach of Namu Farm (Winters, California) discussed her farming practices that are deeply rooted in her Korean identity and how these practices speak to environmental justice, food justice and sustainable agriculture. Leach took the audience to a journey of seed stewardship emphasizing hard work, integrity and place of race and culture in seed stewardship.

About the speaker
Born in Daegu, South Korea, in 1982, Kristyn Leach was adopted as an infant by an Irish Catholic family in the Northeast and grew up in New York. While attending the Fashion Institute of Technology, she got involved with New York City’s urban community garden movement via the Food Not Bombs initiative. At this time, she also joined the resistance against Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s attempts to auction community garden sites.
Leach ate Korean food for the first time at the age of 19. This is when she became curious about growing Korean crops and began reading cookbooks, investigating culturally important Korean vegetables and herbs.
She grew 깻잎 (kkaennip), a staple Korean herb (also known as perilla) for the first time, when she moved to the state of Washington. After moving to California, she managed a lettuce farm where she also grew kkaennip for Namu Gaji, a Korean-owned restaurant in San Francisco. Inspired by her partnership with Namu Gaji, in 2011, Leach founded the Namu Farm in Sunol Ag Park of Alameda County, California. Two years later, she visited Heuksalim, an organic seed research institute in Korea, to observe the diversity of the seeds kept in the institute’s vault.
Now located in Winters, California, the farm quickly became an iconic center of agrobiodiversity of traditional Asian crops. Leach works with Asian American communities on the West Coast to further her efforts in environmental justice, food justice and sustainable agriculture projects which are inspired by more than 4,000 years of Asian teachings of farming.

Mike Costello

Mike Costello

Appalachian chef, farmer, seed saver and storyteller Mike Costello was the third speaker for Seedy Talks. This event took place on Monday, Feb. 3 at 5 p.m. in 325 Brooks Hall.

This event was sponsored by the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Geology and GeographyC. Eugene Bennett Department of Chemistry and Department of Sociology and Anthropology

About the talk

In this third installment of Seedy Talks, Mike Costello will take a critical look at the actions of chemical companies in West Virginia and reflect on his personal decision to decline his participation in the Crops in Color campaign, a decision defined by his relationships with his community and the land around him, as well as the region’s culture, food, economy and, of course, the seeds he loves and is committed to preserving.

Born and raised in a part of West Virginia known as “The Chemical Valley,” Costello has a personal connection to the state’s chemical industry and especially to DuPont. Costello grew up with members of his community, including his aunt and his grandfather, working at the DuPont Corporation’s Kanawha County plant, as well as nearby plants operated by Monsanto, Bayer, Union Carbide and, later, Dow Chemical. Unfortunately, he also witnessed the industry’s adverse effects.

By the 1970s, the Kanawha Valley came to be known as “The Cancer Valley,” as residents living near local chemical plants were diagnosed with cancer at extremely high rates. In a prominent incident profiled by recent films The Devil We Know (2018) and Dark Waters (2019), DuPont's Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, West Virginia, dispersed more than two million pounds of C8, a toxic compound which is used to manufacture Teflon©, into the mid-Ohio River Valley area, contaminating water resources for humans, livestock and wildlife. According to a 2012 study of 70,000 people in the greater-Parkersburg area, six locally common diseases were linked to C8 from the DuPont plant, now operated by Chemours.

Though he now lives hours away from his hometown, Costello was confronted with DuPont’s troubled Appalachian legacy once again in 2019, when The Global Crop Trust approached him (along with Mehmet Öztan and other Appalachian farmers, seed savers and food producers) to participate in the Crops in Color campaign. Promoted as a photography and social media campaign to celebrate local/regional farmers and Appalachia’s agrobiodiversity and heirloom crops, Crops in Color’s primary sponsor was Corteva AgriSciences, a spin-off corporation born from the merger of DuPont and Dow Chemical. Costello wondered which would be greater: the benefits the campaign might bring to his home region or the public relation benefits for corporations with complicated and troublesome legacies in the region. In the end, Costello, Öztan and a group of fellow seed-saving enthusiasts across the region declined to participate.

“Knowing what I know about the histories of Corteva, DuPont and Dow in West Virginia, I couldn’t bring myself to participate in a campaign that would allow these companies to greenwash their toxic legacies on the backs of our uncompensated labor and institutional knowledge,” Costello said. “Appalachians don’t owe these companies anything. These companies owe Appalachia the world.”

About the speaker

Mike Costello received a bachelor’s degree from the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism (now the Reed College of Media) at WVU. Costello is a chef, farmer, seed saver, storyteller and co-owner at Lost Creek Farm in Lost Creek, West Virginia, a historic farm and traveling culinary venture through which he and his partner, Amy Dawson, promote Appalachia’s heritage-based cuisine while they celebrate the diversity of West Virginia’s immigrant history and food traditions.

Mr. Costello is currently a contributing editor at the 100 Days in Appalachia project, where he focuses on issues in regional food and culture, and he serves on the board of directors for the Appalachian Food Summit. His work was featured in the West Virginia episode of Anthony Bourdain’s iconic Parts Unknown documentary, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and WVU Magazine.

Ken Greene

Ken Greene

Mehmet Öztan, service assistant professor of geography, and Jonathan Hall, assistant professor of geography, collaboratively collaboratively hosted the second Seedy Talks, a speaker series of the Morgantown Seed Preservation Library, on Monday, Oct. 7, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in 325 Brooks Hall.

The event began with a discussion around food among the audience and continued with the screening of the short documentary, “Seeds of Hope.” The documentary tells the story of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe at Akwesasne, the Hudson Valley Farm Hub and Seedshed as they honor Native American seeds that are at risk of disappearing through planting and harvesting them. The Hudson Valley Farm Hub and Seedshed are both nonprofit organizations that work on projects related to building resilient agricultural communities and engaging communities for seed sovereignty and biological diversity.

After the documentary, keynote speaker Ken Greene unpacked a timeline of seed heritage from pre-history through indigenous seed keepers up to biotech and pharmaceutical domination of seed resources. Through looking at and digging deeper into the elegant, humorous, personal and telling images from antique seed catalogs and contemporary seed pack art that Greene talked about, the audience had the opportunity to learn about a diversity of seed stories and how seeds connect us to food, butterflies, science, geography, history, soil, our ancestors and each other. 

This event was presented with support from the West Virginia Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations do not necessarily represent those of the West Virginia Humanities Council or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

About the Speaker

Ken Greene is the founder of the first seed library in the United States, a project he germinated in Gardiner, New York. Greene and his partner, Doug Muller, grew the library into the Hudson Valley Seed Co., a national seed company and regional seed farm devoted to ethically producing seed for home gardeners and farmers and celebrating seeds through art. Greene is also the founding director of Seedshed, a nonprofit organization focused on growing regional and cultural seed communities through seed literacy and seed justice programs.

Greene’s efforts have been profiled in a range of publications including New Yorker Magazine, Washington Post, Martha Stewart Living, Vogue, New York Times, Heirloom Gardener Magazine and NPR. He has given presentations for diverse groups including the Northeast Organic Farming Association, Culinary Institute of America, Seed Savers Exchange, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Omega Institute, many Garden Clubs of America and the National Heirloom Expo. In 2019, the Hudson Valley Seed Co was awarded the Garden Club of America Horticulture Commendation.

Ira Wallace

Ira Wallace

Seed saver, story teller and co-founder of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Ira Wallace was the inaugural speaker of Seedy Talks on April 12, 2019. In this session, Wallace talked about her work with seeds in the South and across the U.S. 

This event was sponsored by Two Seeds in a Pod Heirloom Seed Co. 

About the speaker
Wallace was raised in Tampa, Florida, by her grandmother Estella Brown, growing up with an abundant homestead garden. She graduated from New College in Sarasota, Florida. She left Florida after college to travel around the world throughout the 1960s and 1970s, living on Kibbutz, a community settlement in Israel, and farming in Denmark and Canada. 

In 1984, she returned to the U.S., and settled in the Twin Oaks Community of Louisa, Virginia. In 1993, she helped to found the Acorn Community, a 75-acre egalitarian farm in Louisa, Virginia, which is identified by Wallace as an “experiment for economic justice.” In 1999, Wallace and other members of the Acorn Community took over the stewardship of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, a small heirloom seed company that has been cooperatively managed since then, and that specializes in southeastern heirloom seeds while commercially offering more than 700 seed varieties to home gardeners and small farmers.

Wallace has served on the boards of the Organic Seed Alliance, Open Source Seed Initiative and Virginia Association for Biological Farming, and she is an organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello, Virginia. She was one of the nine contributors to the Southern SARE-sponsored Saving Our Seeds Project that aimed to promote sustainable, ecological, organic vegetable seed production in the mid-Atlantic and South. She was one of the major collaborators in the Heirloom Collard Project that focused on historical documentation and preservation of the collard varieties grown since pre-civil war era in the southern U.S.

Wallace was the mid-Atlantic regional correspondent for the Mother Earth News gardening almanac in the 1990s and is the author of the "Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast." She is the 2016 recipient of the Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award, 2019 recipient of the Organic Growers School’s Organic Educator Award and 2019 recipient of the American Horticultural Society’s Paul Ecke Jr. Commercial Award.

Wallace travels around the U.S. to tell seed stories and to teach communities about seed saving, seeds’ connection with economic and food justice as well as about southern culinary and farming traditions. She is one of the most prominent and inspirational seed advocates of our time.