A Visit to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Posted by Keith Nevison

On August 22, 2018, staff from Monticello’s Center for Historic Plants visited Southern Exposure Seed Exchange (SESE), a founder and host of the Heritage Harvest Festival and the site where many of the delicious vegetables and fruits are grown for the festival’s Tasting Tent.

SESE Worker/Owner Ken Bezilla in the flowers at the farm. Photo credit: Keith Nevison

SESE is located on 72 acres in Mineral, Virginia, on an intentional community run by residents of the Acorn Community. Since its founding in 1982, SESE has expanded to include more than 800 varieties of vegetables, flowers, herbs, grains and cover crop seeds. On their home farm, they conduct trials to evaluate performance of both new and old crops, and have developed a strong association with tomatoes, collard greens, okra, beans, peanuts and other crops suited for growing in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

Ken Bezilla and Jessica Bryars, CHP’s Assistant Manager of Operations, checking out the impressive stature of Mongolian Giant sunflower. Photo credit: Keith Nevison

SESE has had a close relationship with Monticello for many years, especially through Ira Wallace, a founding member of the Acorn Community and worker/owner of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. In fact, Ira is credited with helping to found Monticello’s Heritage Harvest Festival and has contributed many hours on the organizing committee, as a presenter and guest blogger for HHF.

Free-ranging chickens and a deluxe chicken coop on wheels. Photo credit: Keith Nevison

Besides the exchange of ideas, CHP staff visited SESE to observe and learn more about how the worker/owners manage their seed business and fulfill several thousand orders each year. As we work in the upcoming years to restore farming to Monticello, we are also planning on procuring seeds selected for disease resistance and ideal growth in southern environments from SESE and other partners.

Flower fields at Acorn Community home farm. Photo credit: Keith Nevison

Our tour ended with a look at SESE’s mighty robot seed packager. Together with their seed cleaning equipment and packet printer, the worker/owners of SESE process millions of seeds each year, destined for gardeners and gardens throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The mighty impressive Stamprite Seedpak 2000 robot. Built entirely in the USA. Photo credit: Keith Nevison


Special thanks to Ken Bezilla, Irena Hollowell, Ira Wallace and the crew at Southern Exposure Seed Exchange for their hospitality!

Visit SESE at Upcoming Heritage Harvest Festival Events

Thursday, Sept. 20

Friday, Sept. 21

Saturday, Sept. 22 (all programs included in the General Admission Ticket)

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3 - 4 pmSaturday

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