Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has
been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed
there, and I am prepared to expect wonders. –– Henry David Thoreau
I was in my thirties and already had children before I even decided on
a career. Now, as I meander into old age, I know that nothing in life
has transcended my love of Nature and profound desire to be engaged
in it. Gardening is the means for that engagement and teaching, the
vehicle for sharing the good feelings it evokes.
As a grandmother now I think a great deal, often despairingly, about
the damage we have done to the Earth. I wonder what it will be like
for my grandchildren as they grow up. Two recent experiences have
given me great hope for their future and a role for myself in the
process of shaping it.
Both experiences that supported my personal quest to understand
Nature’s ways and commitment to translate that knowledge into
actions that would inspire others to be resource stewards centered on
the ancient practice of seed-saving. Past practices may just be the
yellow brick road to the future, and not an imaginary one.
The first experience involved attending an organic seed-saving
conference in the Pacific Northwest. I saw the listing for the event on-
line and, in an impulsive moment, registered for it. Only later, when I
had examined the agenda more closely, did I realize that I might have
made a serious error. Though a passionate gardener, I feared I was
getting in over my head. I would be among crop breeders,
experienced farmers and university scientists. Not belonging to any of
these groups, I felt much trepidation about participating. I even
considered requesting a refund. But, logic prevailed and I convinced
myself that I was bound to gain something from either the content of
the conference or the networking opportunities it afforded. Besides, it
was still a good excuse to visit my sister in West Seattle.
Much to my surprise and pleasure, I returned home with a notebook
full of ideas and was truly energized to start saving seeds in earnest. I
might even make the leap to selecting seeds and using them to breed
plants suited to our region. As a result of the four days in snowy Port
Townsend, I also began to contemplate how to creatively integrate my
new knowledge about seeds and the politics of seed saving into my
school programs, summer day camps and public visits to my
I was clearly ready to begin the next phase of my life and the
conference had been transformative in this respect. I proudly wear a
t-shirt with the conference theme on the back promoting the vision of
the sponsoring organization:
“Advancing the ethical development and stewardship of seed”
Wearing it is my personal recognition of the gift of life that is in each
seed, our life’s dependence upon seeds for edible crops, and the need
to protect germplasm from loss (not just for us but for other living
things as well).
From reading just about everything horticultural I could get my hands
on, I already understood the basics of botany, soil care and plant-
pollinator associations. But seed-saving with the goal of fostering bio-
regionally adapted food plants…now that was something new.
The conference provided a refresher course on genetics and reinforced
the importance of seed saving to food security world-wide. I learned
that seed libraries were being established across the country, seed
exchanges were becoming increasingly common and that internship
opportunities were available to train the next generation of farmers.
I also found out that there was such a thing as seed school.
Seed saving and growing out seed are the logical next step when one
is a serious gardener. In fact, seed saving requires the same skills
that a gardener already possesses, with perhaps a bit more discipline
necessary in the record-keeping and storage departments. Careful
observation, patience, intuition, creativity, awareness of the need to
rotate crops, respect for the soil ecosystem are some of the items in
the master gardener’s skill set. Add to these skills the willingness to
provide the labor and the funds to make the limited investment in
supplies and equipment and you are ready to go.
An awareness of the general impoverishment of the food system in
this country that impacts all ethnic and income groups in some way–
also drove me to consider seed-saving. Thus, when I saw a notice
about Native Seeds/Search Seed School in Tucson, Arizona, I jumped
on the opportunity. No, this was not an impulsive decision like the first
had been. Rather, it was an act of faith, vision, commitment and hope. Yes, I did say I was a grandmother. That puts me in my sixties and makes this new undertaking a brain fitness activity as well –something new to learn.
A few facts that are now part of my seed-saving advocate’s vocabulary
might influence you as they did me:
According to the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, 96% of food crops available in 1906 are no longer available.
Where thousands of types of food plants were consumed historically, now only 15 plants and 8 animals constitute 90% of human food; 12 plant crops make up 75% of the food consumed in the world; 3 plants – rice, wheat and maize - are now relied upon for more than half of the world’s food.
Multinational corporations have acquired many seed companies, limiting production of many varieties and offering instead their own patented genetically modified seeds (GMOS)
Land grant universities were in part created to provide seeds for farmers, but most of their research now supports further privatization of what was once part of the public domain.
So why save seeds:
First of all, it is to reverse the decline in seed diversity implied by the
To combat hunger and encourage self-sufficiency locally and globally
To support the culinary traditions of different cultures
To promote biodiversity of plant species in general
To foster healthy local food systems with bio-regionally adapted crops
To insure the availability of particular types of desired seed
Because it’s engaging, educational, challenging, and just plain fun
It is a great way for your family and you to connect with Nature
And finally, it keeps the most basic element needed for food
production in the hands of the diverse many rather than the powerful
few. Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket, so to speak.
Seed saving also gives rise to stories of great human interest and
builds relationships within and between communities. For me it is
another way of working with nature and appreciating its brilliance and
beauty. Working with seeds inspires awe and feeds my spirit. The
Organic Seed Alliance conference and Seed School were life-changing
experiences and will certainly influence both my vocation as an
environmental educator and avocation as a gardener seeking self-
The OSA conference had provided the motivation and background on
seed saving and its importance in terms of global food issues. Seed
School gave me the tools to apply my new understanding.
Since real students never graduate, it didn’t seem odd to me to be
going back to school. The reactions of those with whom I shared my
excitement while not surprising, were disappointing. I watched eyes
glaze over as I mentioned my new (consuming for me) interest. I had
to respond over and over again to the same question “What is Seed
School?” I guess it just shows how disconnected we Americans have
become from the sources of our sustenance.
With seed saving I am taking a number in the long line of human
history; stepping right into life eternal and expecting to love every
moment of it! This is not just a new hobby – it is a passion. I now
know the rules of the game, its importance and the star players. The
ball is in my court.
All our major food crops were originally developed by amateurs. Until
recently, all gardeners and farmers saved their own seed; all
gardeners and farmers were automatically amateur plant breeders –
and amateur plant breeding was the only kind of plant breeding there
was. Carol Deppe, Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties
I hope you will join me in this quest. Here are some resources to help
you on start your journey
Native Seeds/Search www.nativeseeds.org
Seed Libraries in N. CA
BASIL (Bay Area Seed Interchange Library) Berkeley, CA
Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library Richmond, CA
www.richmondgrowsseeds.org seed library and classes on seed-saving
Organic Seed Alliance Pt. Townsend, WA www.seedalliance.org
supports the development and stewardship of genetic seed resources
through education, advisory services and research…
Xerces Society – www.xerces.org Portland, Ore.
Invertebrate conservation with special emphasis on pollinators and agriculture
Food First/Institute for Food and Development Policy - Oakland, CA
An organization promoting food justice and food
sovereignty through policy advocacy and programs in partnership with
small farmers around the world.
Center for Food Safety www.centerforfoodsafety.org
Ecological Farming Association www.eco-farm.org
Judy Adler is an environmental educator. To learn more about her,
school programs or garden visit her website www.diablonature.com .