Friends Drift Inn Farm – Gardening and Seed Saving
Revised Dec. 2, 2019
Originally published Nov. 5, 2012, Friends Drift Inn is indebted to Bill Best for showing us we are not alone in our passion to save Appalachian heirloom seeds and preserve the genetic diversity of our food sources.
Much has changed since 2012. Seed-savers and dear friends, Gary Millwood and Irvin Coleman have passed on. Bill has moved his heirloom seed swap to Tennessee – and has written another book.
Our own Appalachian Heirloom Seed Swap here in Pikeville, KY has grown by leaps and bounds. We hope you enjoy this look back.
There and Back Again – Taking a Trip to Find Home
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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.
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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