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Across the country, a renaissance of local food, farming and place-based culinary traditions is taking hold. And yet something small, critically important and profoundly at risk is being overlooked in this local food resurgence: seeds. We are losing our seeds. Of the thousands of seed varieties available at the turn of the 20th century, 94 percent have been lost forever.
With a signature lyricism that once prompted a New York Times writer to proclaim her the Rachel Carson of the South, author Janisse Ray (Ecology of a Cracker Childhood) brings us the inspiring stories of ordinary gardeners whose aim is to save time-honored open-pollinated varieties like Old Time Tennessee muskmelon and Long County Longhorn okra-varieties that will be lost if people don't grow, save, and swap the seeds.
From rural Maine to Oregon's Palouse, Ray introduces readers to dozens of seed savers like the eccentric sociology professor she dubs "Tomato Man" and Maine farmer Will Bonsall, the "Noah" of seed saving who juggles hundreds of seeds, many grown by him, and him alone. And Ray tells her own story: of watching her grandmamma save squash seed; of her own first tiny garden at the edge of a junkyard; of falling in love with heirloom and local varieties as a young woman; and the one seed (Conch cowpea) that got away from her.
With a quiet urgency, The Seed Underground reminds us that while our underlying health, food security and sovereignty may be at stake as seeds disappear, so, too, are the stories, heritage and history that passes between people as seeds are passed from hand to hand.