Episode 66: Li Schmidt


by Rodney Wilson

Taiwanese-American farmer Li Schmidt talks about growing Asian-heritage crops, growing crops for seeds, small-scale farming in Taiwan and preserving cultural foodways.

Hear about how Li started her Cultural Roots Nursery, in Northern California, in 2020, as a result of the pandemic rather than in spite of it. Most of Li’s customers are Asian American and have encouraged her to grow a broad range of plants from the diaspora community, leading to Li pursuing some creative seed sourcing in addition to looking to a handful of US-based seed companies. Learn how Li has figured out how to grow these mostly subtropical plants in the hot, dry climate of California’s Central Valley.

Check out a short list of Cultural Roots Nursery’s crops:

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  • Bitter melon
  • Long beans
  • Taiwanese basil
  • Shiso
  • Bo Ju Hua chrysanthemum tea plant
  • Taro
  • Ginger
  • Goji berries
  • Tong Ho chrysanthemum greens

Li talks about traveling in Taiwan, visiting with farmers and chefs, and learning about the food system and farming there. Hear about the accessible small-scale crop processing and infrastructure there and how this interplays with the food culture there. Li gets into the importance of cultural foodways to her work and way of living.

Learn also about the California Farmer Justice Collaborative, which started out as a group formed to pass California’s Farmer Equity Act in 2017 and now focuses on farmer support and legislation. And Li tells us about the Cal Ag Roots storytelling project that she works on with the California Institute for Rural Studies, unearthing the historical roots of agriculture in California.

Listen to the end to hear Li’s favorite meal using the Asian-heritage foods that she grows.


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