What leads a Long Island music composer to buy a farm and start a seed company? This week we talk with Zachary Paige, an organic farmer in northern Minnesota who just recently launched North Circle Seeds, an organic, sustainable seed business out of his Vergas farm (where he also produces the Seed Stories Podcast). We talk about the Jewish connection to his work, how he got into sustainable farming, and why he started this new endeavor, on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.
You can read an excerpt below, but for the whole interview (which you are really going to want to hear), please listen or subscribe to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher, with more to come later soon. Please subscribe, rate, and review. Check out the show page where you can catch up on previous episodes. And of course, if you have suggestions of others who would be great subjects, let us know!
You are in Vergas, Minnesota, which until your mother – who gave us gave us the heads up about your venture that you’re working on now told us you were in Vergas – I didn’t know what Vergas was. What brought you up there?
I came out to White Earth in 2012. I was teaching music and White Plains, N.Y., for a few years – I had just got a Bachelor’s in music composition. And I was just finding myself doing sustainable farming in Vermont. And I just want to get to know about seed saving and also why cultivated plants were cultivated, and the difference between that and wild plants. So that led me to learn a native perspective and to White Earth working for the White Earth Land Recovery Project. That kind of drew me to this area at that time, and also drew me to plant breeding, which I went to school for in Iowa State. So I kind of just stuck around and met a really great community of sustainable farmers and Native community and done really good work here. Meaningful work.
How did you go from music composition to farming? What was that path?
I think the path was what do I want as my career? I actually applied and got into grad school for music composition, I was excited to go but I also was drawn this other way. I had this burning, desire to want to learn and live in the woods and live in nature, which I didn’t have too much experience growing up in suburban Long Island. I think I was deprived for a while. I love just driving down dirt roads and looking at the stars. And I think that was a big, big part of it. And also want to learn the basics, learn the basics of life and where our food comes from. And I was really excited about farming in Vermont when they did that. So I think once I got a taste, I just was off. And when I was on the sustainable farm in Vermont, I was curious about why sustainable farmers don’t save their own seed because sustainable to me would be saving your own seeds. Why do a lot of farmers and organic farmers not do that? So that was a big question and curiosity that I was having.
What was it that led you to that this sort of level of interest in seed saving?
I went to a seed school in Arizona, which is a week-long course, and teaches seed saving, history of seeds and where we are now, and how much diversity is lost. It amped me up. That was in 2012 and ever since then, I’ve been on this train of wanting to save all the seeds that I grow.
About a year ago you bought your farm on 46 acres in Vergas, and now you’ve just started North Circle Seeds. What led to that decision?
It’s been something that’s been brewing ever since seed school. I think I had it in my mind that I was going to start a seed company. I’ve been gaining skills: I took sustainable farming classes and went to school for plant breeding. So those were technical skills that I was obtaining, But then on the community side, just being active with Sustainable Farmers Association in Minnesota. It’s been a year since I bought the farm, but it’s been about 5, 6, 7 years of working with an amazing community of farmers and seed savers. With North Circle Seeds, we’re trying to do education workshops. I don’t think that our company is trying to do hybrids seeds; we’re trying to sell open-pollinated seeds, where people can save them on their own. And we think that’s a good thing, not trying to have people buy seeds from us every year. We’re promoting seed saving and open-source seed, and also growing them in organic conditions.Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!