You Are Where You Eat

Curtis Wilson, new executive director of SEEDS, wants people to know where their food comes from.
Most U.S. tomato imports come from Mexico, where agriculture is largely commercial.

What wasn’t so commercial was a day in Xalapa, Veracruz, when a group of farmers gathered to connect on a spiritual level with their corn harvest. They were observing an indigenous Huichol tradition, shamanistic rather than capitalistic. Curtis Wilson, who this year takes over St. Louis Park-based food and wellness nonprofit SEEDS, participated. He attended this and other harvest ceremonies while studying sustainability and permaculture and teaching social studies in Mexico between 2005 and 2010.

“It would be different every time,” he says of the ceremonies. In Xalapa, they would “come together with the elements—fire, water, air and earth—and convene with [the] community and really get in touch with generations of the land. That includes being a part of the growing process and hearing the origin stories of corn itself.”

The experience moved Wilson to focus his sustainability work on food. He had no prior history with shamanism. He had gone to Benilde-St. Margaret’s and had played Little League baseball in St. Louis Park. He had lived four houses from City Hall. But Huichol tradition opened his eyes to the years he’d spent eating without connection to his food.

“Growing up, we think that milk comes from a box,” he says. “Or we don’t know that filet comes from a living being.”

Wilson moved back to St. Louis Park in 2010 and worked as education director of Spark-Y Youth Action Labs, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit bringing sustainability projects to area high schools. Through Spark-Y, Wilson met SEEDS founder Julie Rappaport.
SEEDS works with the Minnesota Recreation & Park Association, Alliance for Sustainability and other organizations to educate residents about organic food options—whether from a store or from one of the community gardens SEEDS helps maintain.

“Most of our programs support what’s called 'the people falling through the gap,'” Rappaport says. While food assistance covers those up to 185 percent of the poverty level, “there’s all these other people that are 186 percent to maybe even 300 percent who are falling through the cracks. You don’t have to be in poverty to be hungry, and you certainly don’t have to be in poverty to not be able to afford organic produce at the grocery store.”

Wilson took over as SEEDS executive director in January. His plans include furthering social equity and engaging youth. For social equity, SEEDS is collaborating this spring with Cooking Matters for a series to help low-income families develop healthy cooking strategies when organic gets expensive.

Say, for example, you spring for $4 on two large organic tomatoes instead of the non-organic, 88-cent ones. You eat half of one for dinner. Days later, the tomato and a half aren’t so fresh. They aren’t bad; they just don’t look perfect. “So, you chop them up, add in some onions and cilantro. That salsa is still good,” Rappaport says. The next day, “you put that salsa in a saucepan with pepper and meat—you’ve got a tomato sauce. That $4 you spent on a couple organic tomatoes actually went into three different meals or snacks.”

In addition to overseeing SEEDS programs, Wilson will mentor 30 interns this summer—furthering St. Louis Park’s own tradition of people-food connections.

Check out the 6-week Cooking Matters series beginning April 20 at Lenox Community Center, and find SEEDS on Facebook.

The third annual SLP Earth Day event is on April 25 at Lenox Community Center. For more information, check out the SEEDS website.