Trading Heirloom Vegetable Seeds at Bill Best’s Barn in Berea KY

Friends Drift Inn Farm – Gardening and Seed Saving

Heirloom Seed Saving and Bill Best's Seed Swap Berea KY

Click to Read Bill Best Saving Appalachia One Seed at a Time

There and Back Again – Taking a Trip to Find Home

I am not a morning person. But at 5 am on a cold rainy autumn Saturday, I found myself piling into a van with a bunch of addicts and smiling; smiling broadly. It was a little surreal.

This need to save seeds, to save our history, to swap stories, and to recover what we have lost is a powerful motivator. Seed saving; it is habit that may in fact be a cure!

Neil cranked up the engine; we buckled up and headed down US 23 in search of our fix. The secret transactions were taking place 150 miles to the northwest in Berea, KY. The kingpin, Bill Best, was ready do some serious trading; and so were we. We ain’t playing around!

If you have not noticed, seed diversity is on a serious decline. Not only is that a threat to our food security, it’s an insult to our ancestor’s legacy and our children’s palates.

Inside the vehicle on that ugly grey morning, I felt the resolve of five very determined spirits. We cannot save the world, but we can improve our little piece of Appalachia.

Cathy, me, Bill Best, Neil, Irvin and in the background Jerome

Bill Best threw up his hands in welcome as we rolled up to his sanctuary. We drew our shirts and jackets close, and stepped onto the wet grassy field. We headed toward the light.

Inside an old barn we gathered; well over a hundred of us. Excitement filled the air and laughter rattled the rafters. The crowd was a crazy quilt of personalities, young and old, urban and rural, liberal and conservative. It really did not matter who you were, it was that you were.

Some swapped seeds from tables loaded down with parcels. Others crouched on the floor negotiating trades as they dug through purses, buckets, and tote bags. I smiled watching eighty year olds bend their heads together with youngsters, imparting wisdom and renewing wonder.

There's seeds to share in there somewheres!  Popping open a Dishpan Cushaw

I laughed out loud as a lady came in toting a “Dishpan Cushaw” something I had never seen before. She had not had time to open the squash to harvest seeds for sharing. But she was not to be deterred. Layne understood the mission. She handed a knife to Jerome, and he unceremonious disemboweled the monster spilling seeds across the rustic rock wall. “Free for the taking” she proclaimed with a contagious joy.

Irvin, Neil, and Rodger Winn spin some tall tales Bill Best Seed Swap Fall 2012

At the table across the way, Rodger Winn was dispensing vegetable seeds and homespun wit. Winn, recently featured in Southern Living Magazine for his work with the Heritage Festival at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, displayed his wares in shiny mason jars that called my name like a chorus of chocolate bars only louder.

Cathy at Bill Best's Seed Swap Berea KY  2012

Cowpeas; they are my newest garden addiction. The thing is Cathy also has a thing for cowpeas. We both whooped spying “Lady Peas” on Winn’s table. For a split second we sized each other up ready to throw some elbows; then we burst into side splitting giggles. Luckily for Rodger, there were plenty of seeds to go around!

The KET Kentucky Life film crew passed through, preparing a piece on the hero of the day Bill Best. (Video Link) Nobody paid much attention; least of all Bill.The focus was all about seeds.

My friends and I were in search of Appalachia. Amongst the Little White Greasies,the Black Pot Liquor Limas, and the Hillbilly Tomatoes is our past and our future.

Trades were made. Business cards exchanged. New friends entered our lives.

Heirloom Vegetable Seed Swap Maria Stenger, Gary Millwood, and me

Friends; that is such a wonderful word! As I looked at my stash of cowpeas, corn, tomatoes and beans I realized the best part of the day was wrapping my arms around Maria Stenger and Gary Millwood; two Kentucky seed savers that inspire me. It is one thing to “like” someone on facebook, but quite another to touch their face and see them smile! What a privilege!

Soon it was time to say our goodbyes.I wondered if my companions had enjoyed the experience. This was their first seed swap and I hoped they would not leave disappointed.

Together we walked away from the shadowy barn and into the glittering sunshine. Cathy looked over at me; patted a bulging tote bag and giggled. Neil and Irvin grinned like possums, holding a jar of Gary Millwood’s Hickory King Corn. Even Jerome was laughing, remembering slashing the Dishpan Cushaw.

Neil turned the ignition. We settled in for the long ride back to the mountains.

It is ironic that to find home, you have to take a trip!

Thanks Bill Best, I’ve told you before – but it bears repeating “You Rock!” Hugs and Giggles

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More Bill Best and Seed Saving in Appalachia
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Bill Best article by Joyce Pinson Appalachian News Express
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Heirloom Gardening
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About Joyce Pinson

Joyce Friend Pinson is a regional farm-to-table columnist for the Appalachian-News Express. She is a local television host. Her column show and blog, Friends Drift Inn, explores food, gardening, and real life farm-to-table stories from the perspective of a baby boomer in Appalachia. Joyce has a background in agriculture, media, and small business. Joyce is an heirloom gardening addict and home canner. She has a penchant for big hats, pointy toed shoes, and bourbon. Along with her husband Charlie, Joyce really does live in a barn where they ballroom dance. And laugh. And cook. And giggle.