After mastering the craft of growing plants, Amirah Mitchell, TYL ’21, has set her sights on growing a business. This year, she launched Sistah Seeds, a company focused on growing and distributing heirloom vegetable seeds from the African diaspora, namely those from the African, African American and Afro-Caribbean communities. With Sistah Seeds, Mitchell also hopes to create a venue for seed-keeping workshops with the aim of educating the community on the importance of saving and propagating seeds.
Sistah Seeds began to blossom while Mitchell was still a horticulture student at Tyler School of Art and Architecture. During her time there, her future company was Mitchell’s main preoccupation: She developed her business plan as a student and researched some of the processes in farming for seed production.
She also spent time working at two local farms: True Love Seeds and Greensgrow Farms. At Greensgrow, she’s particularly proud of a seed library she started.
“It works very much like a book library in that anybody can come and check the seeds out,” she explained. “And the hope is that people will begin to learn how to save their own seeds, and maybe next year they can come back and return some of the seeds that they saved to the library.”
Simply put, seed-keeping is part of Mitchell’s life’s mission: With Sistah Seeds, she hopes to both reduce our dependence on large corporations for seeds and to preserve Black and brown networks of seed distribution.
“It’s important to decrease dependence on the corporate seed industry because it’s harmful for agricultural biodiversity,” said Mitchell. “The diversity of agricultural crops that are grown has greatly decreased as the size of the corporate seed industry increases, and that’s a problem that can only be solved by people saving their own seeds.”
For Mitchell, preserving seeds means preserving vital aspects of culture and our connection with the past, and this holds especially true, she says, for Black and brown people, who can see their own history in America reflected in agriculture.
“Farming has always been part of ancestral practice, a way that I connect to my ancestry and my heritage,” said Mitchell. “Saving seeds is an extension of that because the seed varieties that I store are the same varieties in many cases as those that were stewarded by my ancestors or by my community for generations.”
In Mitchell’s view, farming and seed preservation can serve as a cornerstone for communities of color, strengthening the bonds among the members.
“There are very few companies that are specifically prioritizing and focusing on the needs of both Black and brown farmers,” said Mitchell. “I think it’s very important that Black and brown people are able to have our own networks of seed distribution and are able to benefit from that financially if we choose.”