Joe and Patti travel to Decorah, Iowa where the Heritage Farm houses one of the world’s 1,400 seed banks and helps celebrate their 35th anniversary. Founded in 1975 by Kent Whealy and Diane Ott Whealy, the idea behind Seed Savers Exchange lay in two varieties of plants handed down by Diane’s grandfather, who’s parents brought the seeds with them from Bavaria.
Today with over 13,000 members contributing almost 1 million seed varieties, Seed Savers Exchange seeks to accumulate, preserve and protect our rich, diverse heritage from extinction. Seeds are kept viable in a specially crafted, controlled environment at Heritage Farm and three other locations. Through a regular testing program, seeds at risk for losing viability are planted, raised organically and collected again. The gardens serve to demonstrate organic gardening practices and seed saving techniques.
Diane compares heirloom varieties to antique furniture or jewelry that has been handed down from generation to generation, but with one important distinction; they are alive. But just as with antiques each one has it’s own fascinating story and SSE seeks to acquire the stories as well as the seeds.
Amy Goldman, SSE board member, author, advocate for plant preservation and member for 19 years grows hundreds of heirloom varieties in her garden each year. Gardening for her began at age 17 and developed into a natural gift for kitchen gardening and love of feeding others. As an expert in saving seeds, Amy gives us great tips and demonstrates the process of preserving heirloom tomato seeds. (To be specific, hybrid varieties will not breed true from seed.)
Next we meet Dr. Ken Street a real life Indiana Jones traveling the world in search of ancient seeds. Featured in a documentary entitled “The Seed Hunter”, his moniker, Dr. Street discusses with Patti, the tragic loss of food sources globally as climate change devastates farming communities. Many of the plants our ancestors grew are gone forever and without preservation of the plant varieties we have today we might be at risk for catastrophic loss of our food supply or at the very least threats to our planet’s biodiversity.
In the documentary Dr. Street’s journey ends at the ‘Doomsday Vault’ in Longyearbyen, Norway, deep in the Arctic Circle. Constructed beneath the permafrost and designed to withstand earthquakes and even a nuclear strike the Svalbard Global Seed Vault currently houses more than half a million seeds, many of which may survive as much as 2,000 years at the -18C temperature. Much like a safety deposit box, seeds are only available to be withdrawn by the country or institution that provided them, but with strict requirements may be the ultimate safety net for preserving humanity’s food resources.
And of course, Chef Nathan tantalizes our taste buds with a flavorful Italian dish using one of the most versatile and easiest to grow plants; garlic.
For more information
The Seed Hunter, Dr. Ken Street
Image of Ken Street courtesy of Sally Ingleton Producer/Director of “Seed Hunter”