They call her the godmother of southern seeds. Lovingly many refer to her as Mama Ira. Gardener, author, and teacher, Ira Wallace is notably associated with the cooperative heirloom seed company, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, where she serves in a managerial capacity. Wallace's work extends into the realm of seed conservation, focusing on heirloom and open-pollinated seeds, which are pivotal for biodiversity and sustainable agriculture. Her efforts were highlighted in the 2014 documentary "Open Sesame – The Story of Seeds," which underscores the challenges faced by advocates for non-GMO seeds in preserving seed sovereignty.
Ira Wallace's journey into the world of organic farming and seed saving was influenced by her experiences during her college years, where she co-founded an organic gardening co-op, and her travels to organic farms around the globe, including in Israel, Denmark, and Ontario. Wallace has served as a board member for the Virginia Association for Biological Farming, Open Source Seed Initiative and Organic Seed Alliance. She was the recipient of the 2016 Craig Claiborne Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2019 American Horticultural Society's Paul Ecke Jr. Commercial Award and the 2019 recipient of the Organic Growers School's Organic Educator Award. In June of 2023, Wallace won a James Beard Leadership Award, being recognized “for her impactful work and leadership as a writer, gardener, and educator." Settling in the Twin Oaks community in the 1980s, she has since dedicated her life to the cultivation of plants and the sharing of knowledge on sustainable agricultural practices.
During the Fall 2023 UCFA Convening, held in Accokeek, Maryland, UCFA members surprised Wallace with the announcement that they were forming “The Ira Wallace Seed School”, a new UCFA program, with the mission to give BIPOC growers the skills, knowledge, as well as the moral, political, and historical framework to become ethical seed practitioners. Ira Wallace is a founding granny of Ujamaa Cooperative Farming Alliance.
An idea dreamed up by Mama Ira Wallace herself and pushed into reality by UCFA co-founder Bonnetta Adeeb, the Ira Wallace Seed School is being brought to fruition by an amazing team of heirloom seed saving, and seed farming practitioners including Amirah Mitchell, Reggie Blackwood, Nate Kleinman., Chris Keeve, Roxanne Masters, Ulum Pixan, Lex Barlowe, Sonya Harris, Tomia MacQueen, Chanda Robinson-Banks, Sister Anna Muhammad, Esther Liu, Nikos Kavanya, Ana Galvis, Zoe Hollomon, Garrett Graddy-Lovelace, Irena Hallowell, Courtney Streett, Uncle Gordon Reed, Nate Erwin, Tessa Desmond, Cara Loriz, Vivien Sansour, and Rowen White.
Over the long run we envision The Ira Wallace Seed School becoming a comprehensive institution, focused on teaching students from communities that are underrepresented in the seed industry and who have historically not benefited from participation in the agricultural sectors of the U.S. economy.
Entitled "Introduction to Ethical Seed Farming," the first class, in The Ira Wallace Seed School will take place online from March 2024 to November 2024 (SEE CLASS DETAILS & APPLICATION BELOW). With Amirah Mitchell and Reggie Blackwood facilitating, students will work with an impressive roster of guest instructors (most from the list above) to cover both practical topics — including crop planning, pest management, seed harvesting and processing, and biodiversity conservation — and ethics-related topics like global seed policy, the history of BIPOC led cooperatives, issues around land tenure, and indigenous seed knowledge, practices, and sovereignty. Mama Ira and others will serve as mentors for students, making themselves available for regular Q&A sessions throughout the course.
Read below, the full 4 page description of INTRODUCTION TO ETHICAL SEED FARMING, the inaugural cohort of The Ira Wallace Seed School. Click the link to complete your application to this unique educational opportunity.