Korean-American farmer is sharing heritage through rare seeds

Farmer Kristyn Leach wants to talk about her delicious harvest from last year. “Progress is good,” she tells me. As it happens, that’s a huge understatement. Kitazawa Seed Company, the retailer that sells Leach’s heirloom seed varieties, reports that sales are up tenfold.

“Her seeds are just flying out the door. It’s pretty phenomenal,” says Maya Shiroyama, Kitazawa’s owner. “When she drops off her seeds, within a few days, we have to reorder.”

Born in Daegu, South Korea, Leach was adopted into a blue-collar, Irish-Catholic family in New York. At an early age, she gravitated towards her grandmother’s massive garden and toiled in local community plots. Her farming days continued into adulthood, and she soon found herself across the country, bouncing around farms up and down the West Coast. While interviewing for a farming job in Bolinas, California, Leach met her mentor, the farmer Dennis Dierks of Paradise Valley Produce.

Asian-American farmers have played an integral role in the history of farming in America, especially in California. As news of the Gold Rush spread in 1848, Chinese immigrants flocked to Northern California. Some immigrants opened up laundromats and restaurants, but those from the Pearl Delta Region in China, an agricultural hub, began growing working on local farms as well as growing vegetables and fruits in their mining camps.

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