IRA WALLACE: I’m Ira Wallace. I’m with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange – a small heirloom, open pollinated seed company. We like to work with small growers when they’re growing a very small amount of one thing.
SEEDS DOCUMENTARY: What brought you to seed saving?
IRA WALLACE: Well, I’ve been a Seed Savers member for, off and on again, since the early 90s, or maybe the first time was in the 80s It’s really fun to meet all these people who are all jazzed about seed saving.
SEEDS DOCUMENTARY: What is your background? What got you into seeds? When was the first time you’ve gone really excited about growing?
IRA WALLACE: I grew up with my grandmother. She has a garden and she saved some seeds but honestly, I didn’t pay attention to it at the time. She died the year I went off to college. I got kind of homesick. I had a garden but I still didn’t save vegetable seeds at the time. I took some like field taxonomy classes and stuff mostly for an excuse to go walking around in the woods in Florida, where I grew up. I got introduced to kind of saving native plant seeds. So for the next, I don’t know, 15 or so years, I saved kind of native plants that appealed to me and a lot of herb seeds. In 1993, I’ve lived in intentional income sharing communities most of my adult life. We started this community and we thought, “We’re going to have a farm for real this time.” So we started a CSA and that’s when I got interested in the vegetable seed saving.
SEEDS DOCUMENTARY: Beautiful. What’s the connection? It seems like there’s been a connection in Southern Exposure and this kind of unique connection between the community in Acorn (the intentional community) and the seed. Is that something that you intentionally tried to foster? Or did it just happen that way? What’s the connection between it?
IRA WALLACE: I live in the intentional community. And what the community is about is an experiment in more sustainable living. We were trying to grow our own foods. And we have goats, and chickens, and rabbits, and whatever various creatures we decided we’re going to have. We try to grow food. We experiment with what would we eat if we were only eating what we’re going to grow. We sort of ran into Jeff McCormick, who founded Southern Exposure, who was an early Board Member at Seed Savers Exchange. It was like a light going on like, “Oh, this is a part of all of this sustainability that we hadn’t thought about.” We just kind of got excited about it. First, we grew some seeds for Jeff. Then Jeff was having some health problems and was thinking of selling Southern Exposure. We said, “Why don’t you let us take over the stewardship?” He was a little worried at first but just like how we would do because we have interns and we’re a very public place because we wanted to change the world which is sort of hard to do but at least we want to influence a lot of people. He was not so sure if it was a stable enough environment but as it turned out, it’s a great environment because you’re always coming in touch with a lot of young people and get turning them on to these ideas. Being a bigger group, 28 members, we go to all these sustainable Ag things, and teach seed saving classes, and invite school kids, and work with Plant a Row for the Hungry and all kinds of different things. A lot of different people have a window into the importance of seed and having a sustainable food system.
SEEDS DOCUMENTARY: Excellent. Now the first time I met you was in Washington at the OSGATA versus Monsanto court case. You were a plaintiff in that. Is that correct?
IRA WALLACE: That’s correct.
SEEDS DOCUMENTARY: Can you tell me how did that come about?
IRA WALLACE: Our community is concerned about choosing consolidation in the seed industry that is big companies just gobbling up the small companies like crazy. They keep all those names out there. You think there are a lot of people you’re buying your seeds from. 70% of them are controlled by six companies in the United States. It’s kind of scary.
SEEDS DOCUMENTARY: Tell me more about the corporate consolidation that’s occurred with seeds and our food supply.
IRA WALLACE: Well in this country, 70% of the garden seed is controlled by six large companies, mostly petrochemical countries turned into life sciences country. Those companies really push genetically modified seeds because they make a lot of money from them. People buy a lot of their chemicals and they make a lot of money from that. That’s a concern. Also, there are all kinds of health things that have been happening strongly in the last 20 years or so since we’ve had these genetically modified foods which we don’t know. I mean, the thing that’s scary is we don’t know if they’re from those foods. We just know that they’re happening and that the law makes it so that researchers can’t have access to those foods, or to the genes, or to do good research like university researches until these utility patents that go with GMOs that came along could get a research sample of anything. But not anymore. You have to have the agreement by Monsanto, or Dow, or Syngenta or someone and they don’t like to give permission to be unfavorable to their products.