top of page

Gone to Seed

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

sustainable garden.

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

preceding facts.

Other reasons:

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

Seed School

Native Seeds/Search

Seed Libraries in N. CA

BASIL (Bay Area Seed Interchange Library) Berkeley, CA

Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library Richmond, CA seed library and classes on seed-saving

Organic Seed Alliance Pt. Townsend, WA

supports the development and stewardship of genetic seed resources

through education, advisory services and research…

Xerces Society – 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

Ecological Farming Association

Judy Adler is an environmental educator. To learn more about her,

school programs or garden visit her website .


Recent Posts

See All

Jewish Seed Project Guiding Values

Created by the organizers of the Jewish Seed Project We recognize that just as we keep the seeds, they too keep us. Seeds grow with us, care for us, and sustain us with nourishment, stories, memories,


bottom of page