PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: Earstin Whitten.

Soulful Seeds is a local nonprofit that focuses on decreasing food insecurity in the community by growing food in urban gardens. It was started by Earstin Whitten and his wife, Dee Schafer-Whitten, in 2017, when they took over a 1,000-square-foot garden plot on the Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center campus. Soulful Seeds is now in the process of constructing a second garden on the Our Place campus. To learn more, visit

Tell me about your life before coming to Reno.

I was raised in a sharecropping family in Arkansas. We learned how to grow vegetables as a means of survival and to support our family of 15 children (including me). After I retired from Allstate insurance after 31 years, I moved out here to Reno, because the weather was nicer.

How did you come up with the concept of Soulful Seeds?

My wife, Delores, and I started it together. We started growing vegetables in 2017 at a space that St Mary’s allowed us to use. It’s about 1,000 square feet. As we grew, we basically gave away all the food to food pantries. Through social media, a lot of people became interested, so in 2018, we decided to start a nonprofit.

What are you doing now in 2023?

We’re growing vegetables! (Laughs.) The St. Mary’s facility is directly behind Planned Parenthood in the alley. Most folks don’t have a clue that we are even there, because it’s shielded. Right now, we’re getting a multiacre plot ready over at Galletti (Way) and Glendale (Avenue) that we got through Washoe County. It’s owned by the state, and we are subleasing 2.6 acres right behind the (Our Place) facility where the (transitional housing is). Last year, we planted 80 fruit trees and 32 garden beds, and right now, we’re trying to remove the rocks from the large row crop area so we can plant vegetables there as well. It’s a long, slow process, but with the right equipment, it can be done in one day. We’re in conversations with a company to help us with that. We want to use the removed rocks to mark garden spaces and build walls. We want to be in a highly productive planting mode. Our objective there is to give the homeless people an opportunity to learn how to garden and grow their own vegetables.

You have regular sessions to show people how to garden?

I’m there (at the Our Place garden) every Tuesday currently, but as the weather improves, I’ll be there virtually every day. We seek volunteers from (Our Place) as well as volunteers from CrossRoads (a program supporting people overcoming alcohol and substance abuse), and when they come over, I show them actually what to do. But we also have master gardeners who are putting on classes on how to plant.

Tell me one of your success stories.

One story that comes to mind is a lady and her girls came over and harvested kale for the first time and were actually able to take it back to their living quarters on the campus and have it for dinner that night. We’ve had individuals come back and express their satisfaction of being able to get out of their indoor living situation and do something outside, do something in the soil, something in the sun.

What is Soulful Seeds going to be doing this spring?

We were planning on having tours in the month of April, but due to the weather being so wet, we will put that off until the month of May. So in May, we will be very, very busy and active out in the fields. You can go to our website and fill out the contact part, and we will keep you up to date on our events.

David Robert

David Robert is the photo editor of the Reno News & Review. In his first stint as the RN&R’s photo editor, he won multiple Nevada Press Association and Association of Alternative Newsmedia awards...

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