If you are a gardener like me, your mailbox is overflowing with seed catalogs all enticing you with all kinds of choices and great deals on those choices. But, before you rush to take advantage of those deals, think about what you might be sacrificing for that bargain.
As I have written about before, it is estimated that farmers produced about 80,000 species of plants before the advent of industrialized agriculture, now they rely on about 150. This has resulted from a number of factors but, over the last two decades, large, multinational companies like Monsanto have taken over family-owned seed companies and focused on producing their own hybrid and patented varieties.
Why is this an issue? These hybrids don’t produce viable seeds and cannot be collected legally and used by farmers or home gardeners.
This means that both home gardeners and farmers must buy new seeds each year from these corporate sources. It also has meant that we are losing the knowledge and techniques of traditional seed saving and plant propagation.
More than that, local, heirloom seeds are better adapted to a local region and become better seeds for that area. They also provide more interesting and unique varieties that are often tastier.
This has led many to recognize the need to preserve the genetic and cultural diversity of the heritage seeds that are left, before they too are gone. As I wrote about last year, in the past couple of years, seed libraries are sprouting all over the United States and the United Kingdom.
Modeled after the public library, a seed library allows members to “check out” seeds in the spring and in exchange, they agree to grow them and “return” the seeds after harvest from the mature plants they have grown in the fall.
Some are for profit ventures, while others are non-profit ventures, and work to provide seeds to all regardless of income level or gardening experience. Most seed libraries also provide information and education on growing, saving, and propagation techniques.
If you don’t live near a local seed library, you can save and share heirloom seeds via Seed Savers Exchange. This non-profit organization mission is “to save North America’s diverse, but endangered, garden heritage for future generations by building a network of people committed to collecting, conserving and sharing heirloom seeds and plants, while educating people about the value of genetic and cultural diversity.” So far, they have saved about 25,000 varieties of heirloom seeds.
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