Thursday, March 5, 2009

Saving Seed

by Slow Food USA intern Laura Kate Morris

“If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need” – Cicero

Perhaps you’ve grown your own vegetables in a community garden, infusing them with the terroir of your soil, eating them at your kitchen table. But that is only part of the circle – what about the seeds? Nearly all seeds available today have been shipped from states (if not countries) away, and at the end of the season are lost back to the soil. What if, in the spirit of sustainability, we closed that circle of seed, plant, table… and back to seed?

The Hudson Valley Seed Library in Accord, NY, is trying to do just that. It brings together rare and regional open-pollinated seeds, a sustainable business model, local artists, the conservation of traditional skills, and … your local library? I spoke with the founder of HVSL for further insight into how anyone could possibly fit so many ideas into a tiny packet of seeds.

Co-created by Ken Greene and Doug Muller to support their homesteading habit, the company is committed to staying small and growing food without fossil fuels. Choosing to raise their seeds by hand, HVSL shies away from a bigger size that would require specialized seed-cleaning equipment, tractors, and machinery. They look toward a sustainable, community-focused model and away from the nationalized corporation. (To start finding out more about the corporate seed world, check out this post on Civil Eats.) The Seed Library operates in part like your local library, substituting seeds for books. You can become a member, “check out” the items of your choice, enjoy and learn from them (in this case, grow them and save them), and return them at the end of the season.

Greene also holds workshops teaching the skills of seed saving which, like many heirloom breeds of livestock and varieties of plants, are in danger of being lost if they are not promoted. The Seed Library acts as a forum for skill sharing and to motivate preservation of regional heirlooms in the hands of local gardeners. Focusing on regionality, their goals include selling 100% locally grown seed within 5 years and strengthening the gene pool of rare and local varieties. Saving seed traditionally encourages the plants’ optimal performance by selecting for characteristics that do well in a specific region.

Overlapping with Slow Food, the HVSL also focuses on showcasing genetic diversity to consumers, encouraging us to expand our palates and eschew the generalizations of the corporatized supermarket. The Seed Library’s collection includes heirloom varieties on the Ark of Taste, vegetables featured by Seed Savers Exchange, and others found only in the Hudson Valley. “Hank’s X-Tra Special Baking Bean” is one, re-discovered in Ghent, New York, and now back in production via the Seed Library (check out its great background story). If that weren’t enough, thirteen of the seeds are showcased in “Art Packs” designed by local artists to celebrate the diversity that is a part of these culture of these plants.

Note – you do not have to be a member of the library to buy seeds – they have an online catalogue - and, if you are a member, there are no late fees! Find out more here.

Other small, independent seed companies, perhaps in your area!

Southern Exposure - Grows 45% of their offered seed and with their regional growers, makes for a whopping 70% of regional seed that they offer (located in Virginia).
Territorial Seed - Grow 20% of their offered seed (located in Oregon).
High Mowing Seeds - Grows 30% of their offered seed (located in Vermont).
Organic Seed Sourcing - a listing of small seed companies around the country.

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