A Gathering of Seed Savers

The Editorial Director of MOTHER EARTH NEWS reminisces about the Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout.

| October/November 2017


  • Photo by Joanna Voigt

I just returned from the Seed Savers Exchange Conference & Campout at Heritage Farm, located on the outskirts of Decorah, Iowa. Seed Savers Exchange is a wonderful collective of seed-saving aficionados formally organized as a long-running nonprofit organization. This was my first time visiting Heritage Farm, and I had the privilege of delivering a keynote presentation on my great-grandfather’s seed business that dates back to 1882 in Bismarck, North Dakota.

What makes this event one of the best I’ve attended over my career is that it’s a purely joyful celebration of our seed heritage — both Native American and otherwise. From the staff members to the leadership to the board of trustees to the participants to, most especially, Diane Ott Whealy, one of the organization’s founders, I felt embraced — enveloped, even — by a positive, friendly, nurturing, and kind vibe. I think it’s this kindness that stood out most profoundly.

When I asked about the organization’s herd of Ancient White Park cattle, I was treated to an incredible back-country tour of the 890-acre rolling farm. Facilities Manager Jim Edrington went way beyond the call of duty to share his passions on that tour. Thanks also to Tor Janson and Sara Straate for tours of the preservation department and for their time and interest in discussing my family’s seed legacy. I am grateful to former director John Torgrimson for convincing me to come and speak, and I’m grateful for my delightful dinner conversation with the new director, and Mother Earth News contributor, Lee Buttala. And I am especially grateful to Board Chair Rowen White for kindly suffering through my talk and then connecting me with a Native American family that my ancestors counted among their close friends.

If you haven’t experienced this kindness firsthand, then you’re definitely missing out. And even if you aren’t a gardener, don’t miss the Heritage Farm if you ever find yourself exploring the Driftless Area. You can fish for native trout or hike through the woods to an orchard with literally hundreds of apple varieties. Or, you can sit and contemplate on a bench in Diane’s Garden, adjacent to the Seed Savers’ barn. If you’re a gardener, your visit will very likely be life-changing.



If you’ve had any inspirational experiences related to seeds, nature, or gardening, please send me an email at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com — send photos too, if you can — and we might be able to get some of your revelations into a future issue.

See you in December,






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