Slow Food Seed Swap: A Convivia of Growers Swarm Old Salem

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 18, 2012

By P.L. Byrd 
For Farm Carolina 
 WINSTON-SALEM — Farmers and growers of all ages and experiences patiently lined the cobblestone walk, braving a stiff wind on a bone-chilling, but clear Saturday morning.  
They were taking part in the Piedmont Triad Slow Food convivia’s annual “seed swap” at Old Salem’s Single Brothers House in Winston-Salem. 
“Amazing attendance,” said Eight-Fold Farm’s Eric Jackson. “Many more people than expected. Did you see the big line of people waiting to come in from the cold?” 
 Eric was one of dozens of farmers who provided heirloom seeds from last year’s garden, offered free to anyone who needed them. Bringing seeds of one’s own to exchange isn’t a requirement of a seed swap.  
“Look at this place,” Eric continued, beaming at the tightly-grouped people around his table. “There’s so much potential, so many seeds!” 
Martha Hartley, researcher and planner for Old Salem, was also excited by the community support. 
“This is Slow Food’s fifth seed exchange, but it’s the first time Old Salem has hosted. We hope this will become an annual event for us!”  
 Ten North Carolina counties and more than 20 farms were represented at this year’s seed swap. Each farmer shared free advice with a throng of enthusiastic growers who are now armed with thousands of seeds — enough to sow cotton, corn, sorghum and greens from Murphy to Manteo, and to harvest okra, butter beans, dill, and Carolina Black peanuts on the way back home.    
“Isn’t this a beautiful thing?” said Mary Jac Brennan, a N.C. Cooperative Extension agent from Forsyth County. “I’m working today, just here to answer questions, but I would have come anyway.” 
Chip Cole, a hobby farmer from Kernersville, picked up vegetable seeds for his community garden. Katie Robinson gathered zinnia seeds for her starter beds.  
But not everyone in attendance was interested in growing.  
“Let’s admit it, I’m an onlooker when it comes to the garden,” laughed Brenda Crater, whose farmer husband Terry says their kids don’t know a harrow from a hoe.  Terry is adamant about the value of preserving seeds.  
“Breed the heirloom out of seeds,” he said, “and they don’t recognize the cycles of the sun and moon.” 
Margaret Norfleet Neff, Slow Food Piedmont Triad chapter team leader, was delighted with the diversity of the crowd.  
“Look at all the young farmers here,” she said. “These folks are coming back to their parents’ land, and growing clean, safe and fair food. They’re creating community, working it from farm to market, and breaking down barriers.” 
Margaret paused and gathered her thoughts on the day’s Slow Food seed exchange into one concisely arranged bouquet. “If you can’t find a job and you love the land,” she said, “think about a new career. Become a farmer.”  
Food for thought. 

 A Fast History of Slow Food 
 In Italy, there is no such thing as fast food. In a culture fond of three-hour lunch breaks, the very idea of rushing any meal — but especially lunch — is an insult to the stomach. 
So it isn’t surprising that the Slow Food movement began as resistance to McDonald’s interest in erecting golden arches at the foot of the Spanish Steps, one of Rome’s most beloved historic tourist attractions. 
Slow Food International, whose mission is to promote good, clean and fair food grown in harmony with the environment, claims more than 100,000 members worldwide, and the roster is growing. Slow Food USA boasts over 25,000 members who are spread like seeds among 250 groups, called “convivia;” North Carolina hosts seven convivia.  
In the singular, one Slow Food group is known as a convivium.  Now, if “convivium” is a new word for you, psychologist and editor Noel Cobb defines it beautifully: “The Convivium is rest from labours, release from cares, and nourishment of genius; it is the demonstration of love and splendour, the food of good will, the seasoning of friendship, the leavening of grace and the solace of life.” 
To a Slow Food member, food equals pleasure, an idea omitted in most food education programs. However, members do much more than sit around a table enjoying three-hour lunches and waxing philosophic upon life’s gentle pleasures. They protect food biodiversity and cultural traditions, help small-scale producers and farmers sell their products directly to consumers, and catalog, save and share seeds in danger of extinction. 
That’s the short list. 
Slow Food is a farmer’s best friend. If you are a farmer, or eat food a farmer grows, this group offers knowledge, support, and multiple opportunities to relax at the community table. Everyone is welcome. 
 To learn more about Slow Food Piedmont Triad, visit their website at 
 To find a Slow Food convivia near you, or for links to Slow Food International and other valuable food and farm-related information, go to