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Saving Seeds, Saving Stories: Sowing a New Generation of Growers: Ann Rose


Ann grew up in Southern Ohio, the upper part of Appalachia. Her family always had a garden and she enjoyed working in it. Eventually she moved to Ashe County with her three daughters. Her growing-up years left her concerned about food security, so she returned to gardening in her backyard after she moved here. Most of their 28 acres was pasture for their horses. 

Ann worked at Watauga Hospital as a nurse; when her third child left home, she quit her job. She was still growing enough food for a family of four, so she began to sell some of her extra produce from her garden. She started with just tomatoes and beans at the local farmers market and has now been a member of the Ashe County Farmers Market for 16 years. She also began to raise livestock and work part-time jobs in the winter, but she always went back to gardening in the summer. Now she farms full time. She is the owner of Rose Mountain Farm in Lansing, NC, and she sells her produce at the Ashe County and Lansing markets.

Ann grows the biggest part of her garden plants from seeds she saves herself. She does not save lettuce and spinach seed because she needs a few hybrids to get a quick start, so she has something to sell until her heirlooms begin to produce. 

During her first year at the Ashe County Farmers Market, a man walked up to her with a bag of seeds he called July Crowder Peas.  Ann tells the story like this:

He said, ‘I hear you’re a farmer.’  And I said, ‘Well, yeah, I’m trying to be.’  And he said, ‘Take these peas and grow them and he said ‘don’t plant them till July.’ And he said, ‘You keep them going.’  And I couldn’t tell you to this day who it was, didn’t know his name, he walked away.”

Ann does remember that he was from South Carolina, and she wonders if he was unsure if the peas would do well at Ashe County’s elevation, but she says they have flourished.

“I don’t plant them till July first. It’s a shorter season pea, but they like to harden off in the cool fall air. They dry better if they’re still on the vine in the fall, so I always save a row or two to do the crowder peas and I’ll plant them July first usually, and then usually by the end of October the pods are brown. It’s a long thick husk, and they usually have about 15 peas per husk. […] It makes it more worth your time when you’re shucking peas, if you get 15 instead of four.” 

Ann describes it as a tall hardy pea plant whose leaves rise up above the pea vine and stick out in all directions on the top.

“When you look out across the field you’ve got all these little helicopter-looking things sticking up. […] These are real sturdy and thick, so I think that’s the thing that makes them a little different from other crowder peas.”

Ann says they have a purple tint that dries brown. She doesn’t husk them until they’re dry on the vine. According to her, you can pick them early and shell them when they’re green, but they’re very difficult to shell.  However, Ann likes to let them dry as one of her storage foods for the winter because they keep so well.  She says they’re really good pressure-cooked with a big chunk of fatback, a side of cornbread, and some boiled cabbage. 

Another favorite heirloom seed that Ann grows and also saves is the Buster Brown Bean. A neighbor and friend of Ann’s gave her about ten seeds. He was a very elderly gentleman who came by the market in Lansing and said, 'Here’s some beans that my grandma grew, and I’ve been growing these all my life.'

Ann has planted it several times, but she never plants all the seeds, and she places them in a protected place in her yard so that the livestock don’t get them. She is trying to keep the seed going, and she increases the number of seeds she saves each year.  She is not sure that the Buster Browns are available anywhere else, which makes saving this variety especially important.

Ann does not know how the Buster Brown got its name, but she loves it. According to Anne,

“It’s hardy and it can take the cool mountain nights and still produce early. It’s a quick bean, I think it’s ready, I’d say in 70 days, no longer than that. [...] You can leave them and let them dry, but they’re better as a green bean. You can use it as a shelly bean if you wanted to, but you have to fight the rabbits out of them.” 

So far, Ann has not grown enough to sell and is growing it just for the seed. But once she gets enough seed for a crop, she’ll sell it at the farmers market, too. 

Another heirloom that Ann likes to grow is the Cherokee Purple tomato.  She says it has a wonderful flavor and she saves the seeds for the characteristics of the mother plant. For instance, if she has a tomato that comes on the plant first and ripens earlier than the other tomatoes on that vine, she will save the seed from that tomato to use the next year in hopes that she can raise a crop of Cherokee Purples that will ripen earlier. She says that Cherokee Purples taste great, but they are gnarly looking and kind of weird shaped, so often people won’t buy those at the markets. That is, unless they realize that the funny shape has nothing to do with good flavor. But, since she sells her produce, she is trying to save seeds from the tomatoes that are prettier so that she might get crops from those seeds that are more attractive to look at—and easier to sell. Ann says that, for example, you can buy seeds for a Black Krim and grow a purple tomato, but they won’t be Cherokee Purples and they won’t taste as good as a Cherokee Purple—but they will be pretty. Unfortunately, Ann says many people judge her produce by how attractive it looks. If they see lumpy-looking Cherokee Purples, they just keep going because those folks, she says, “pick their diet with their eyes and not their palate.”  So, they miss out on the good flavor.

Ann also wants to be the Johnny Appleseed of elderberry. She found elderberry bushes growing on her land and now spends a lot of her winter propagating more and sells the seedlings at the market. She mows them off at the ground because if you do this, she explains, you get about fifteen new babies that sprout up within a five-foot circle.

Everything you mow off, you can cut at an angle at the bottom and stick it in the ground and it will root, too. If you mow them off to the ground, it sends them into shock and they’ll make 15-20 sprouts [...] and the original plant’ll come back, too.

Ann has enjoyed abundant success growing and selling heirlooms and other plants that thrive in the mountains of Western North Carolina. She understands the importance of keeping these seeds going, as well as the stories that go with them.  

Interview with Ann Rose by Brenda Smith 1/5/2023



This project is funded in part by a grant from South Arts’ In These Mountains, Central Appalachian Folk Arts and Culture initiative.

Photographer: Jay Wild

Interviewer: Brenda Smith