Gardens Across America Interview – Rick Rickman

Joseph Simcox and Rick Rickman (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Joseph Simcox and Rick Rickman (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)

Welcome to the first in a series of interviews with participants in the Gardens Across America project. The project was started by Botanical Explorer, Joseph Simcox. This project’s mission is to grow out and save rare varieties of seeds. I want to share the stories of passionate gardeners from across our great land, growing out rare gems.

The subject of this first interview is Rick Rickman. He is the Acting Director for the Gardens Across America project. Rick lives in McAlester, Oklahoma.

Heptagon Giant Cucumber (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Heptagon Giant Cucumber (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Raj Special Tinda Gourd (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Raj Special Tinda Gourd (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)

1. How did you first hear about Gardens Across America?

I actually heard about Gardens Across America while I was trying to find information on this guy who called himself “The Botanical Explorer.” Of course that would be Joseph Simcox. I was watching these various videos of him and his team and their crazy antics and amazing plant expeditions. Then I found a video posted by Anthony Rodriguez on his blog “Revolution of Thought.” Anthony had some video of when he met Joe and attended a seed swap where he had received some amazing seeds from Joe for a project called Gardens Across America, I sent a friend request to Anthony, and began to ask about some of these amazing varieties that I had never heard of before. This would have been sometime in the spring of 2014. Fast forward to October 2014, my wife and I were traveling in Missouri for a belated Anniversary getaway and lo and behold, I have a chance run-in with the man himself. In our short conversation Joe asked if I was a participant in his Gardens Across America Project, he shared a few of his precious Beans, and he was off on another one of his whirlwind adventures. I have followed his journey on Facebook ever since. The following February I attended a keynote address he gave at a conference in Springfield Missouri. I reminded him of my interest in the Gardens Across America Project and told him if there was anyway I could be of further assistance to please let me know. I would never have thought that that chance encounter in 2014 would have led me where I am right now. Due to the great interest in this project and the flood of emails and messages he received Joe saw the need to revamp the project for 2016. He asked if I would be the Acting Director for the Gardens Across America project for 2016. Additionally, he has added several extremely talented, dedicated, passionate, growers from across the United States to help out as Regional Coordinators. These ladies and gentleman are working tirelessly to follow up all the interest for the project as it comes in. With the help of his sister Sue, we started a dedicated website www.gardensacrossamerica.com, here people who are interested can fill out an application if they would like to be considered for the project. The information provided will be added to our online database spreadsheet. When we get the information,the Regional Coordiantor for that area/state will contact them with further details.

Kiwano Melon (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Kiwano Melon (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Ping Zebra Lima (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Ping Zebra Lima (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)

2. Why do you think this project is important?

Just this week I was reading the latest copy of National Geographic magazine. There were some eye opening statistics mentioned in one of the articles. One statistic showed
that we have lost 75% of our crop diversity since 1900. It went on to relate that we now depend on just a few crops and that variety is shrinking. There are over 30,000 edible
plants available globally, some 7,000 are cultivated or collected for food, yet only 30 (or less) are staple crops that feed most of the world. The article touched on the import of crop diversity. mentioning that farmers once cultivated a wide array of crop varieties, yet today industrialized agriculture focuses on only a commercially successful few. Yet today we see a rush to save old varieties, heirlooms or otherwise, that very well could hold the keys to developing crops that can adapt to a wide array of climate change. In lieu of this article I can’t help but get excited about Gardens Across America, Joe and his team travel the world, collecting rare, exciting seeds from a wide array of food crops. These seeds are then made available through avenues such as The Rare Vegetable Seed Consortium or this very project. I feel that Joe’s work can only add to the great diversity of the seed crops that are grown today.

3. What is your favorite seed you have grown out so far?

Corazon de Panama Squash (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Corazon de Panama Squash (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)

I was very happy with a Squash that Joe and Patrick collected in Panama, called Corazon de Panama. It is a Cucurbita moschata Squash which did extremely well for me here in
Oklahoma. Despite a late planting in mid June (we had a record wet May) it did very well. There were no pest or disease problems at all. Showcasing the diversity (variability) of
these amazing seeds, I wound up with 2 distinct fruit shapes. One of which surprised both Joe and Patrick. I harvested several nice sized fruit in mid November and they are still storing well. I will have to comment on taste when I cut them to harvest seeds, haha

Unknown Beans (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Unknown Beans (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Unknown Beans (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)
Unknown Beans (photo courtesy of Rick Rickman)

4. What has been your biggest challenges in this process?

So far I think the greatest challenge has to be sorting through a sea of email, haha. I am confident however, that the interest in the Gardens Across America Project is only going to continue to flourish and grow in the coming years. I jokingly said not long ago that there will come a time when this will be called Gardens Across the World. Already Joe has plans in place for Gardens Across Europe, and Gardens Across Aruba. Whereas this Project may seem to be geared toward the home gardener, we have involvement from school, community, and even various University gardens. We are very excited. We hope that all who participate appreciate the seriousness with what they are being entrusted. Many of these seeds are specific varieties and land races that have been saved by one particular family or tribe for generations. Often Joe may only get a handful of seeds to work with as far as trying to grow these out and continue to share them with others. So it is easy to see the importance of growing these varieties out and maintaining the purity of each one. If you are reading this and are interested in growing the rarest, most exciting varieties of seeds available, are committed to growing out and maintaining the varietal purity of these rare seeds through various propagation techniques such as isolation, caging, bagging, or hand pollination, would be willing to return a portion of the seeds back to Joe at the end of the season, we hope you will go to our website an fill out an application. We would love to hear from you. Additionally it is our request, that if you participate, we would love to hear and see your results and with your permission you could very well wind up just like I am here, having your story shared though various forms of social media. Who knows, you may even get a visit from Joe himself.

My Final Thoughts
Rick’s story reminds me of my very own. I happened to have a chance encounter with Joesph at Whole Foods Market in Ann Arbor (check that story out on my other blog, Eat Like No One Else).

Rick points out the lack of diversity when it comes to the crops we grow and the food we eat. Visiting the produce section of a grocery store only gives you an extremely small percentage of what is out there. While I believe we are beginning to see more varieties of fruits and vegetables in our stores, it’s still just barely scratching the surface. Part of the goal of my blog, Eat Like No One Else is to share the different varieties that I am finding myself.

If you really want to experience and taste all the amazing diversity this planet has to offer, there are two things you can do. Shop farmer’s markets and grow your own food. Just looking through a seed catalog will open your eyes. Besides just feeding my family, I grow my own food so that I can experience things that I can’t anywhere else. For those that are serious and can take the time and effort to save seeds, joining up with Gardens Across America can be a really rewarding opportunity. Check out their facebook page, for all the latest updates.

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1 Comment

  1. […] of amazing people who are kind and generous enough to freely share their seeds. Rick Rickman, who I interviewed earlier this year for the Gardens Across American project, send me some pea seeds to try out. The catch was that he wasn’t going to tell me what they […]

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