Seed Savers Exchange is an organization that has been around since 1975. It was founded by Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy, with the inspiration coming from the seeds Diane’s grandfather entrusted them to keep. The mission of Seed Savers Exchange is to conserve and promote America's culturally diverse but endangered garden and food crop heritage for future generations by collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. Notice that this mission goes way beyond just saving seeds. Many of us already save seeds at home, but this mission also involves sharing. Seed Savers Exchange has done a tremendous job of saving varieties from extinction, but the organization can only do so much. It is really (and always has been) up to the rest of us to participate, whether as members of Seed Savers or just members of our society.
Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is located in Iowa, but their message was brought to Louisa, Virginia September 8, 2013 by Grant Olson, education coordinator for SSE. That day SSE members and other interested folks attended the first gathering of SSE members in the southeast region of the U.S. Grant had an opportunity to address more people in the area the day before at the Heritage Harvest Festival when he spoke on Planning Your Garden for Seed Saving. His topic with the seed savers on September 8 was about the stories behind the seeds. Besides saving the seeds, we need to save the stories that go with them, which is part of our heritage. These stories are part of our cultural and culinary history. Immigrants came to this country with seeds to start their new life. Our food links us to our past and we need to save the seeds to preserve that and to adapt to the future.
At this meeting, SSE member Craig LeHoullier also spoke. Craig’s specialty is tomatoes. He worries, as I do, about how to keep the momentum going in seed saving. There are too many accounts of long-time seed savers who are getting on in years, or their life has changed and they need to turn over the responsibility of their seed collections to someone else. From the beginning SSE published a yearbook of who had what to share. The Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook (different from their catalog) lists varieties that are offered by members. Anyone can order seeds from the catalog, but the print copy of the yearbook is only offered to SSE members. However, a peek into the yearbook online is now available to everyone. If you are not a member you can see what’s there, but you can’t see who is offering it. A notice on this website indicates there will be a webinar on how to use the new online exchange on September 18, 2013. This new database is searchable by geographical area, variety, and other specifics. The webinar shows how to use the print yearbook. Membership in SSE helps them continue their work. If you are not a member, a peek at the yearbook just might entice you to join. Members receive the quarterly publication The Heritage Farm Companion.
This Southeast gathering was the brainchild of Ira Wallace of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Ira’s passion is connecting folks with seed saving and everything it involves. She was one of the people demonstrating seed saving at Acorn Community that afternoon. The afternoon farm tours were sponsored by the Virginia Association for Biological Farming. Besides Acorn (home to Southern Exposure Seed Exchange), the others farms participating were Twin Oaks Community, All Organics Farm, Living Energy Farm, and Forrest Green Farm. Find out more about the talks and the tours that day at Homeplace Earth.
Diane Ott Whealy of SSE will be speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA, which will be upon us soon—September 20-22, 2013. Diane wrote a history of Seed Savers Exchange titled Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver. I’ll be speaking at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, also. My talks are Grow a Sustainable Diet and Solar Food Drying. See you at the Fair!
Learn more about Cindy Conner and what she’s up to at www.HomeplaceEarth.wordpress.com.