About This Artwork

Joel Sternfeld
American, born 1944

Acorn Community, Mineral, Virginia, April 2004

Chromogenic print, from the series "Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America"
26.5 x 33.2 cm (image); 27.9 x 35.5 cm (paper)
No markings recto or verso


Acorn is a young, struggling community. A 1993 offshoot of the paradigmatic Twin Oaks Community, it lies seven miles down the road—or river, which is sometimes canoed. In the early 1990s, a surge of interest in intentional communities saw the population of Twin Oaks outgrow its own infrastructure; in response, Acorn was established on seventy-five beautiful acres of farmland. Membership has fluctuated over the years and currently numbers about thirteen.

Acorn defines itself as “a young community seeking ways of living that are cooperative, caring and ecologically sustainable.” The members work in exchange for coverage of basic needs such as housing and food. The community supports itself with tinnery crafts (rainbow lights, double-hanging candleholders and hanging planters, which can be viewed at www.communitymade.com) and the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, which is referred to as “our beloved seed business.” Southern Exposure is a company passionately committed to heirloom varieties and “open-pollinated” varieties of vegetables, herbs and flowers. It has taken as its mission the preservation and distribution of rare and endangered plant species and the education of growers and the public about the importance of saving seeds.

Southern Exposure points out that prior to World War II, vegetables and flowers were grown by farmers who chose and saved seeds suitable for the local microclimate and soil. During the war however, a concerted effort was made to ship food to Europe, and afterward California and Florida became factories for produce that was selected for its ease of shipping, uniform ripeness and ability to perform well in a chemical environment.

Southern Exposure specializes in heirloom seeds that were chosen over the course of years by local growers, but their efforts are threatened by genetically modified plants. The only way to protect heirloom and rare varieties from being pollinated by GMOs is to keep them distanced from these new creations. Unfortunately, GMOs have a twenty-times greater outcrossing (pollen fertility) rate than non-GMOs; as a consequence, Southern Exposure never knows if its plants grown for seed will be safe.

So, like Acorn itself, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange is struggling for its existence.

From the portfolio, Sweet Earth: Experimental Utopias in America, 1982–2005

Gift of Ralph and Nancy Segall, 2009.785




Interpretive Resources

View mobile website