Quaker Seeds and Native American Corn


Seventy-five F(f)riends gathered for worship at Schuylkill Meeting—a beautiful and active Friends meeting near Phoenixville—followed by a Friends in Fellowship event at Eden Valley Farm on Sunday, February 25th. As the Spirit moved among them in worship, and the warmth of John and Penny Hunt’s welcome sunk in, Friends who had come from as far away as Third Haven Meeting, MD, and Harrisburg Meeting, PA, enjoyed the chance to connect around farming, biodiversity, the extensive seed collection of Roughwood Seeds, and Native American corn collected by 21 year-old Stephen Smith, who is part Cherokee.


Welcomed by John and Penny, their Penn-MaryDel hounds, and Angus-Wagyu cattle, we sat for a “Quaker Burgers and Kale Salad” lunch designed by chef Ben Thomas of Restaurant Cerise. The chef’s buttermilk-dill aioli and shaved pickled onion relish on a bed of arugula made for a delicious lunch.


From John Hunt, we learned about the value of farming and the “Quaker” contract among neighboring farms to be generous to each other in times of adversity and during moments of need. John explained that, as farmers, the Quaker practice of sharing and trusting led to an unshakable sense of community. Penny Hunt then shared a story of the founding history of the John Martin Trust – rooted in the property of John’s wife, Elizabeth Simms. She was a former servant of William Penn’s, and received land at 3rd and Walnut Streets that served as an early alms house and retirement community before being sold to endow the Trust.


The featured speaker, William Woys Weaver, gave a nuanced talk about Quakers’ engagement in the collection and dissemination of heritage seeds. Painting a vivid portrait of vegetable growing in this region, and the role of Quakers in identifying and developing seed stock for nutritious native crops, he described his work in setting up the Roughwood Seed Bank. As the agricultural industry develops universal crops, the biodiversity of our food supply diminishes, and healthful treasures from past gardens are lost to future generations. Busier than ever, with three new books underway, William has turned over management of the Roughwood Seed Collection to Stephen Smith, a plant historian from Kentucky. Stephen, also known as Dancing Wolf, then gave a slide presentation of his work in researching the origins of corn and its role in Native American myth and faith. Featured above is a picture of some of the corn varieties in his collection of several thousands of seeds.


Many thanks to John and Penny Hunt of Eden Valley Farm for their wonderful hospitality! The weather may have been cold and damp, but their welcome was warm and the event delightful.

Article drafted by Charles Walsh and Grace Cooke.