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The Southern Seed Legacy (SSL) strives to reverse the erosion of plant genetic diversity and cultural knowledge in the American South by encouraging and supporting local seed saving seed exchange networks and in situ conservation.

Southern Seed Legacy News

Dr. Virginia Nazarea visited UNT to celebrate the inauguration of the Southern Seed Legacy and the Laboratory for Environmental Anthropology on Thursday, April 21st, 2011. Find out more >>

Dr. James Veteto and the SSL publish a booklet on the status of Southern Appalachian traditional foodways in collaboration with Renewing America's Food Traditions and Gary Paul Nabhan. Download the booklet here.

Seed Swap
SSL hosts 14th annual Old-Timey seedswap. Find out more >>



About Us

Southern Seed Legacy (SSL) Project was initiated in 1996 as a project dedicated to reversing the erosion of genetic diversity and cultural knowledge in the American South by encouraging and supporting local seed saving and exchange networks and in situ conservation of plant genetic resources. The project was supported for two years by a USDA Sustainable Agricultural Research and Education in Concert with the Environment (SARE/ACE) grant under the directorship of Dr. Robert Rhoades and Dr. Virginia Nazarea. In recent years SSL has evolved into a member supported organization.  In the Spring of 2011 the SSL moved into its new home at The Laboratory of Environmental Anthropology at The University of North Texas under the directorship of Dr. James Veteto.


Southern Seed Legacy strives to reverse the plant erosion of genetic diversity and cultural knowledge in the American South by encouraging and supporting local seed saving exchange networks and in situ conservation of plant genetic resources. We also house a small seed collection that serves as a backup for crop varieties that are in particular danger of going extinct and a memory bank that documents the cultural history of many southern heirloom varieties.


Identify local seed saving and exchange networks, and locate these exchanges in terms of agro-ecological regions and ethnic distribution in the South. These form the nodes of the "Southern Seed Legacy" which are made up of diverse grassroots organizations and individuals dedicated to enhancing the biodiversity and sustainability of Southern agriculture. Identify, for each major agroecological region, crops that are "at risk" in terms of genetic and cultural erosion and concentrate efforts in the collection, documentation, and conservation of these "at risk" crops. Complement existing accessions in germplasm banks with farmer knowledge and at the same time enhance the capacity of farmers themselves to preserve, access, and exchange both the genetic material and relevant cultural information. Use the case of heirloom and landrace plants in the South to reinforce the linkage between cultural diversity, biodiversity, and sustainable farming in a comprehensive range of educational outreach programs.


The overall approach undertaken by SSL is to identify and locate local seed exchanges within the major agroecoregions of the South. Each region shares common agroecological factors and distinctive production regimes. Each is also characterized by a particular ethnic distribution--thus providing a "window" into the cultural correlates of the existing biodiversity. The investigation proceeds by identifying "at risk" crop or crop families that are important to sustainable agriculture in each agroecoregion. The preservation of both "at risk" genetic resources and associated farmer knowledge is promoted via informal, local seed exchange networks that are linked together through the Southern Seed Legacy project. The general approach is carried out by a combination of strategies that are unique to the project.

Building on informal pathways of seed exchange that already exist, the Southern Seed Legacy is a decentralized network wherein different organizations and individuals across the South ideally select a manageable group of crops in each agroecoregion as their focus. Different groups and individuals contribute their varied expertise and resources to enhance the network.

Contact Us

Mailing Address
Department of Anthropology
University of North Texas
1155 Union Circle Drive # 310409
Denton, TX 76203-5017
Phone: (940) 565-4908



Pass Along Southern Seed (PASS)

Pass along Southern Seed (PASS) is an initiative to promote the conservation through use of both cultural knowledge and heirloom plants of the American South. PASS is open for the SSL members. Members interested in PASS borrow seeds from our seed catalog with the promise that s/he will save from the successful grow-outs and keep one-third, pass one-third to another gardener/farmer, and return one-third to SSL. Interested? Find out more >>

Old Timey Seed Swap

Since 1996 the Southern Seed Legacy has hosted an Old Timey Seed Swap at Agrarian Connections Farm near the small town of Crawford in Oglethorpe County, Georgia. The purpose of these seed swaps is to facilitate networking among gardeners and farmers in the Southeast who grow heirloom plants with the hope that the exchange of knowledge, seeds, and enthusiasm will help toward the preservation of unique southern heirloom plant varieties.  This year the 14th SSL Old-timey Seed Swap was held in Hot Springs, Arkansas and in the years to come we plan to establish a seed swap in Denton, Texas.

Southern Memories

The SSL believes that saving people's knowledge and stories is as important as saving the seeds. They must go hand-in-hand. Over the years, SSL researchers have traveled to far ends of the American South in search of seed stories. A few examples are presented here. Find out more >>

Award Winning Seed Savers

The SSL has periodically given out an award to a distinguished seedsaver from the southern United States. The award recognizes the contribution of seedsavers in preserving southern heirlooms plant varieties and their cultural knowledge. Past awards have been given to Ernest Keheley, Lee Barnes, John Coykendall, Glenn Roberts, and Rodger Winn.




Dear Southern Heirloom Plant Enthusiast,

We want to extend an invitation to you to join the Southern Seed Legacy. To keep our program vibrant and growing, we need new members and old ones to renew their annual membership. We encourage all members, regardless of level, to contribute seeds or family seed stories to our collection and memory bank. Please look over membership categories and to pay for your membership fee, choose between two options: (1) online credit card payment or (2) print out the membership form provided below and send it to us with your payment.


Crowder Pea  $15.00:   For a basic fee of only $15, members are eligible to participate in the Southern Seed Legacy Seed Exchange (receiving a copy of the SSL Seed Exchange Directory) and a maximum of two seed packets through the Pass Along Southern Seeds program (PASS).

Greasy Bean  $25.00:   This level includes participation in PASS (receiving a maximum of 3 seed packets) membership in the SSL Seed Exchange and a copy of the SSL Seed Exchange Directory, occasional publications (including our newsletter SEEDLINK), and invitations to all SSL events such as the annual spring Old Timey Seed Swap.

Butterbean  $50.00:  Includes all benefits of Greasy Bean membership with a maximum of 5 seed packets through the PASS program.

Candyroaster  $100.00:  All the benefits of Greasy Bean membership with a maximum of 10 seed packets through the PASS program. Your generous contribution will help the SSL to expand exciting new projects such as the Southern Seed Legacy gardens located on The University of North Texas sustainable campus greenspaces.

Hickory King “Keeper of the Seeds” Lifetime Member  $250.00 or more:   This special membership has all benefits of membership plus access to five seed packets per year for life through the PASS program.  Lifetime members will be specially recognized on the SSL website and at the Southern Seed Legacy headquarters at The University of North Texas.


(1) Online Credit Card Payment

Online credit card payment involves two important steps:

  1. Payment for your membership fee can be made online via credit card. If you choose this option, please click here to make a payment on our secure server. Please select the "other" category to choose the appropriate amount matching the membership fee.  Under the Designation 1 area, select the Southern Seed Legacy under the Department of Anthropology.
  2. In addition to your online payment, please also fill out our member form.  You may email your completed form to

(2) Mail-In Form

If you do not wish to process your membership online, we will be happy to accept a membership form through regular mail. Please download this form and mail directly to:

Southern Seed Legacy
c/o Department of Anthropology, University of North Texas
1155 Union Circle Drive # 310409
Denton, TX 76203-5017

Thank you!


vetetoDirector: Dr. James Veteto

James Veteto is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at The University of North Texas.  He began seedsaving in 1996, when he first grew out Southern Seed Legacy (SSL) heirloom seeds on a farm just outside of Athens, Georgia.  Upon receiving his B.A. in anthropology in 1998 from the University of Georgia (UGA), Jim moved the mountains of western North Carolina and worked as a farmer and educator.  He was head of the vegetable garden at Mountain Gardens in 1998-99 and was the director of the garden program at The Arthur Morgan School from 2000-03, where he initiated an heirloom gardening program for middle school students.  From 2003-05 he was a graduate assistant and farm manager for the Sustainable Development Teaching and Research Farm at Appalachian State University, where he created an Appalachian heirloom teaching garden with the help of undergraduate students. His M.A. Thesis (2005) was entitled The History and Survival of Traditional Heirloom Vegetable Varieties and Strategies for the Conservation of Crop Biodiversity in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina.  In 2005, Jim returned to the UGA to pursue his Ph.D. in anthropology under the guidance of Robert Rhoades, Virginia Nazarea, and Gary Paul Nabhan.  From 2005-08, he coordinated the SSL and in 2010 produced a dissertation entitled Seeds of Persistence: Agrobiodiversity, Culture, and Conservation in the American South, which examined the persistence of heirloom seeds and fruit trees among Appalachian and Ozark gardeners, including comparative case studies of the Eastern and Western Cherokee.  In the Spring of 2010, after the passing of his mentor Dr. Robert Rhoades, it was decided that Jim would bring the SSL to the University of North Texas and direct the organization in which he had got his start in seedsaving in 1996.  Dr. Veteto has collected over 1000 seeds across the American South, nearly 100 oral histories, and grows out between 50-120 heirloom varieties each gardening season. 

Founders: Dr. Robert Rhoades and Dr. Virginia Nazarea

Dr. Rhoades Rhoades was born on a farm in Oklahoma in the 1940s and never quite got the red dirt out from under his fingernails. After a long career in international agriculture, he returned to the US as Professor of Anthropology and Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Georgia. He is the founding Executive Director of the Agrarian Connections, a non-profit educational and research organization working toward the preservation of rural landscapes and lifeways. The organization is presently restoring a 312 acre degraded cotton farm in the Georgia Piedmont , including the historical farm structures representing four time periods from pre-European down to the present.

Dr. Virginia Nazarea is director of the Ethnoecology/Biodiversity Laboratory of Department of Anthropology at UGA. She is a native of the Philippines. She has an international reputation in plant genetic resources and is the author of 4 acclaimed books on the topic.

Team Members: Erin M. Wackerla and Steve Carlson

Wackerla_ErinErin M. Wackerla is a master’s student of Applied Anthropology at the University of North Texas.  She received her bachelor’s in Anthropology with minors in Spanish and Women’s Studies, graduating cum laude at UNT.  During her undergraduate years Erin was active in campus organizations, serving on the board of UNT’s Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, and as an -Ambassador of the Women’s Studies department for two years.  Growing up in a semi-rural area, Erin saw her community’s fields slowly disappear due to suburban encroachment.  She has since maintained a broad interest in human ecology and environmental ethics.

carlson_steveStephen B. Carlson is a master's student of Applied Anthropology at the University of North Texas with research interests in sustainable agriculture and sustainable living. Stephen grew up among the cornfields in Iowa and worked for eight years with fruits and vegetables in a local Iowa produce department, experiences that have encouraged his interests in sustainability and food systems. He received his bachelor's degree in Anthropology from the University of Northern Iowa.


Please join the Southern Seed Legacy today!



Veteto, James R., Gary Paul Nabhan, Regina Fitzsimmons, Kanin Rouston and Deja Walker
2011 Place-Based Foods of Appalachia: From Rarity to Community Restoration and Market Recovery. Tucson, Arizona: Renewing America’s Food Traditions.

James Veteto
2010 Seeds of Persistence: Agrobiodiversity, Culture, and Conservation in the American Mountain South, Dissertation from University of Georgia, Department of Anthropology.

James Veteto and Kristine Skarbo
2009 Sowing the Seeds: Anthropological Contributions to Agrobiodiversity Studies, Culture and Agriculture, 31(2): 73-87.

James Veteto
2008 The History and Survival of Traditional Heirloom Vegetable Varieties in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Western North Carolina, Agriculture and Human Values, 25: 121-134.

Southern Seed Legacy Newsletter (available in .pdf)

Seedlink 2010
Seedlink 2001
Seedlink 2000
Seedlink 1998
Seedlink 1997
Seedlink 1996

Recommended Readings

Books for Heirloom Gardeners

Heirloom seeds are not merely artifacts of the past.  To many, these seeds constitute a symbol and a mechanism of resistance to the homogeneity, anonymity, and forced forgetting imposed by the present.  If you are interested in the whys and the whereofs as well as the how-tos of this issue, there are some thought-and-action-provoking materials.

Anton, Danilo, Diversity, Globalization, and The Ways of Nature, Ottowa: International Development Research Center, 1995.

Ashworth, Suzanne,  Seed to Seed: Seed Saving Techniques for the Vegetable Gardener. Decorah, Iowa: Seed Saver Publications, 1991.

Ausubel, Kenny, Seeds of Change: the Living Treasure, Harper San Francisco: A Division of Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

Bubel, Nancy. The New Seed Starters Handbook. Rodale Press, Emmaus, Pennsylvania.1988.

Calhoun, Creighton Lee, Jr.  Old Southern Apples, McDonald & Woodward Pub. Co. 1995.

Coleman, Eliot. The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for
the Home and Market Gardener. Chelsea Green Books, White River Juction, Vermont. 1995.

Cutler, Karen Davis.  Starting from Seed: The Natural Gardener's Guide to Propagating Plants.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden.  1998

Creasy, Rosalind. The Edible Heirloom Garden Periplus Editions, 1999.

DeMuth, Suzanne, Vegetables and Fruits: A Guide to Heirloom Varieties and Community-Based Stewardship, Volume 1-2, Annotated Bibliography, U.S. Department of Agriculture, 1998.

Deppe, Carol,  Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1993.

Fowler, Cary and Mooney, Pat, Shattering: Food, Politics, and The Loss of Genetic Diversity, Tucson: the University of Arizona Press, 1990.

Gardener, Jo Ann,  The Heirloom Garden; Selecting and Growing over 300 Old-fashioned Ornamentals,  Pownal, Vermont: Garden Way Publishing, 1992.

--------- The Old Fashioned Fruit Garden, Halifax, NS: Nimbus Publishing, 1989.

Hensley, Tim, Rediscovering the Heirloom Southern Apple, in Mother Earth News 158: 34-40, 42, 103 (Oct./Nov. 1996).

Jabs, Carolyn.  The Heirloom Gardener,  San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1984.

Lorenz, O. A. and D. N. Maynard, Knott's Handbook for Vegetable Growers, 3rd edition,  Wiley?Interscience Publications: New York, 1988.

Leubbermann, Mimi. Heirloom Gardens : Simple Secrets for Old-Fashioned Flowers and Vegetables Chronicle Books, 1997.

Mueller, W. and Brad Edmonson, From Farmer to Table,  American Demographics 10(6): 41?44, 1988.

Nabhan, Gary, Enduring Seeds: Native American Agriculture and Wild Plant Conservation, San Francisco: North Point Press, 1989.

Nazarea, Virginia, Eleanor Tison, Maricel Piniero, and Robert Rhoades, Yesterday's Ways, Tomorrow's Treasures: A Guide to Memory Banking. Kendall/Hunt Publishing Company, Dubuque, Iowa, 1997.

Nazareas Virginia, Cultural Memory and Biodiversity, Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998.

Newcomb, Peggy C.  Popular Annuals of Eastern North America 1865-1914, Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oakes, 1985.

Peet, Mary.    Sustainable Practices for Vegetable Production in the South.  Focus Publishing 1996.

Raeburn, Paul.  The Last Harvest:  The Genetic Gamble that Threatens to Destroy American Agriculture.   Simon & Schuster, NY  1995

Rhoades, Robert, The World's Food Supply at Risk, National Geographic, 179(4): 74-107, 1991.

Rogers, Marc.  Growing and Saving Vegetable Seeds.  Charlotte, Vermont: Garden Way Publishing, 1978.

--------- Saving Seeds: The Gardeners Guide to Growing and Storing Vegetable and Fruit Seeds.
Storey Publications, Pownal, Vermont, 1991.

Stritikus, George R.  List of Recommended Period Plant Materials for Alabama Gardeners, Montgomery, AL: 1986.

Turner, Carole B. Seed Sowing and Saving. Storey Publications, Pownal, Vermont.1998.

Watson, Benjamin. Taylor's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables. Houghton-Mifflin, New York, New York. 1996.

Welch, William. The Southern Heirloom Garden. Taylor Publishing, 1995.

Weaver, William Woys.  Heirloom Vegetable Gardening.   Henry Hort & Co.  1997



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