crop diversity

Seed Savers Exchange

I came across Seed Savers Exchange today and thought it was definitely something worth talking about… They are a non-profit, member supported organization that saves and shares heirloom seeds. It was founded in 1975 by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy to honor a tradition of preserving and sharing, which began when Diane’s terminally-ill grandfather gave them the seeds of two garden plants (Grandpa Ott’s Morning Glory and German Pink Tomato) that his parents brought from Bavaria when they immigrated to St. Lucas, Iowa in the 1870s. Their headquarters is a the 890-acre Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa where they permanently maintain more than 25,000 endangered vegetable varieties! Most of the vegetables were brought to North America by members’ ancestors who immigrated from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and other parts of the world.

Now it’s been almost 35 years since their founding and they have already distributed an estimated 1 million samples of rare garden seeds! The seeds are utilized by everyone from small farmers to chefs to home gardeners. The goal of Seed Savers is to maintain the diversity in our food supply, which is a very worthy goal. Why so worthy? Well unfortunately, the genetic diversity of crops worldwide is eroding at an extremely fast rate. The vegetables and fruits we’re losing are the result of thousands of years of adaptation and selection hence each variety is genetically unique and has developed resistance to the diseases and pests with which it evolved. Plant breeders use these old varieties to breed resistance to diseases and pests into our modern crops. So the bottom line: Less genetic diversity equals greater risk of epidemics and infestations in the world’s food production. Clearly, not a good thing.

You can help though by becoming a member (they are member supported) or perhaps giving the membership as a gift! You or the recipient receives access to the seeds of thousands of varietals of endangered fruits, veggies and flowers. Once I’m able to have a garden I definitely plan on joining. Without the efforts of the Seed Savers Exchange, many delicious, nutritious, and beautiful species might have already gone extinct. It makes me sad that we’ve lost so much diversity already, but efforts like this make me hopeful that we can directly help the problem and do it in our own backyards!