Wednesday, June 12

Women at Work in RVA: Ira Wallace & Rachel Zell

Our Summer Symposium kicks off in Richmond, Virginia, on June 20, and we'd like to introduce you to some of the wonderful people we'll celebrate over the course of the weekend. Since our new website isn't ready to show off just yet, we're sharing the interviews from our latest oral history project here. Every day leading up to the Summer Symposium, we'll feature two more stories from Women at Work in RVA.

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"That's the thing with heirlooms. It's not just the seeds. It's the stories and the places that they came from."

Southern Exposure Seed Exchange

Raised in Tampa, Florida, by her grandmother, Ira Wallace grew up with lush gardens and a strong appreciation for homesteading. She left Florida after college and travelled around the world throughout the 1960s and 1970s, living on Kibbutz in Israel, farming in Scandinavia and Canada, and then working some land in North Carolina. In 1984, she settled into the rolling hills of Virginia, a place she now calls home. Ira helped found Twin Oaks cooperative farm and then, in 1993, Acorn, the current home of the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Though she lives and works in Mineral, Ira travels all over the country to teach workshops about gardening, herbs, farming, and heirloom and open-pollinated seeds. She's teaching communities about seeds with stories spanning decades, cultures, and traditions. When Ira first took over Southern Exposure from Jeff McCormick in 1999, 15,000 seed catalogues went out to customers. This year, 110,000 catalogues will be mailed to seed lovers.

"My experience is their experience and not them saying, you know, 'Oh this tasted so good,' but them saying, 'Life is great and it’s great to be here.' That’s more important than the actual food."

Food Stylist, Caterer & Server

A fourth-generation Richmonder, Rachel Zell’s family was known for its business, Nathan's Custom Tailors. But Rachel had a passion for food. In her early twenties, she left Richmond to attend the French Culinary Institute in New York City. Rachel stayed in the Big Apple to work for Katy Sparks at Quilty's. After relocating to San Francisco for another opportunity, she returned to Richmond to do what she loves—at home. Rachel has served as a private chef for families in Richmond and New York and has done her share of catering. She's cooked at Patina Grill and Ipanema CafĂ© in her hometown. Today, in addition to cooking for clients and freelancing as a food stylist, Rachel also works as a server at The Roosevelt in Church Hill. She never set out with a specific career path in mind, only a mission: to connect with people through food.