Kansas seed man, Wes Jackson says, “Become native to your place.” Inherent in Jackson’s message is a call to those who grow their own food to examine why it is important to connect with place, specifically your place. Jackson is a seed geneticist and author of Consulting the Genius of the Place.
Aside from the more obvious answers to that question, important is the issue of biodiversity.
Home gardeners and organic farmers are on the front lines of preserving plant biodiversity.
|Drying fava beans for next year|
Adherence to being “native to your place” entails taking care of it. The choices each of us as growers make from seed selection to mulch to fertilizers are critical to the continuation of healthy ecological communities. Mindful gardeners and farmers are stewards of our vegetable heritage through maintaining unique varieties and fostering sustainable growing practices.
|Jimmy Nardelo pepper saved for seed collection|
Whether you grow in a 3×8-foot raised bed in your backyard or farm 30-acres of black soil in one of Montana’s fertile river valleys, saving seed from successful crops year-to-year is vitally important to the continuation of plant diversity. Seed that is successful in your micro-climate and specific to your neighborhood, is contributing to knowledge of place. However, the preservation of a genetic heritage is in danger of disappearing.
Consider for instance, recent statistics showing the consolidation and patenting of vegetable seeds throughout the world controlled by a few multinational corporations. For example, a non-localvore salad, originates from Monsanto-owned seed that grows 55 percent of store-bought lettuce, 75 percent of U.S. tomatoes and 85 percent of peppers.
|Heirloom Sugar Pie pumpkin seedlings|
Whereas, historically, seed genetics had been considered part of the public domain, recent developments have placed seed genetics into the “intellectual property” arena allowing corporations to stake claim over thousands of years of agricultural traditions.
Of course, saving seed is dependent on the original crop seed coming from non-hybrid varieties. Hybrid seeds are worthless for replanting, requiring the grower to return to seed companies each year to purchase their seed. When selecting plant seeds to grow out for future seed saving, the seed must be of the open-pollinated variety. Open-pollinated organic varieties will grow “true-to-type” or produce plants like their parents if they not cross-pollinated. Hybrid seeds are incapable of producing plants like the previous generation.
According to a recent Mother Earth News Survey of over 100 US and Canadian seed companies, about a dozen seed companies sell 100 percent organic seeds, while a dozen other companies estimate that more than 75 percent of their listings are organic.
Small locally-focused seed companies are shooting up all over the country. Take for instance, Solstice Seeds of Hartland, Vermont. The owner started two years ago selling the organic seed she had collected from crops grown out for this purpose. Her business has doubled because of gardeners who wish to grow open-pollinated organic seed from a known source.
Consider this list of Solstice Seed traits when you go to buy 2011 seed:
- Open-pollinated, non-hybrid variety
- Produce well and mature within our growing season
- Offer possibilities for season extension either through its cold hardiness, lateness of maturing, or adaptability to greenhouse growing
- If a winter food crop, must store well in a root cellar or winter over in the ground
- Have outstanding flavor
- Be a rare or old variety that is worthy of preservation
- Show some disease and/or insect resistance
- A variety that was either grown historically in our area or is part of our traditional Montana (she says Vermont) winter diet
Help save our vegetable heritage by becoming part of a long tradition started by early immigrants from the Old Country who brought seeds sewn into hatbands and skirt hems.
Honor the farmers who came before us by planting for biodiversity and save the seeds native to your place.