Seeds tell stories, but what kind of stories?
The Seed Savers Exchange, a 501(c)(3) member supported organization from Iowa founded in 1975, tells a story of formulating a living legacy of seed exchange that can be passed down through generations. The seeds that arrived in the United States in possession of European, Asian, African, and Middle Eastern immigrants are nurtured on an 890-acre farm. From the farm, the Seed Savers Exchange offers a variety of seeds for sale to members of the organization and the general public through both the Seed Savers Exchange Yearbook and the Seed Savers Exchange Catalog. Based on the disbelief in Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) solving the world’s food supply problems, the Seeds Savers Exchange promotes the safe cultivation of naturally genetically diverse heirloom seeds. (Check out http://www.seedsavers.org for more information.)
Native Seeds/SEARCH (NS/S), another non-profit organization based in Tuscan, Arizona since 1983, tells another story of native Southwestern seeds being supported and returned to Native American communities for a food system revival. The loss of traditional and culturally significant indigenous agriculture across the Southwest troubled the founders of NS/S and started them on a road to, “help communities develop regional seed solutions rooted in traditional seed saving methods to strengthen their food systems.” The seeds that the NS/S collect and distribute to native communities in the present continue to play important roles in community stability and ritual feasting as they did for the native communities of the past. (Go to http://www.nativeseeds.org to read more about their efforts.)
Janisse Ray, author of The Seed Underground: A Growing Revolution to Save Food (White River Junction, 2012), tells a story of statistical concerns. In the course of a hundred years starting from 1902, Ray states that 94% of seed varieties in the United States have been lost. The fact that only 2% of Americans farm now compared to the 41% that did in 1900 combined with the industrialization and corporatization of commercial farming has created seed loss. The revolution Ray studies in her book occurs in the gardens of people keeping heirloom, place adapted seeds alive. Unlike the stories of the organized Seeds Exchange and the NS/S, the quite revolutionaries of The Seed Underground gardens are like the chile growers that we encountered in Chasing Chiles who tackle “global weirding” on a backyard scale instead of in the political sphere of policy-making. (Listen to Janisse Ray discuss her book with host Steve Curwood on Living on Earth’s August 10th, 2012 broadcast: http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=12-P13-00032&segmentID=7)
So what kind of story do seed libraries tell? Is it one of organized exchange to save heirloom seeds that entered the US in the pockets of immigrants? Is it a story of returning traditional agriculture through seeds to a region in need of cultural preservation? What if it is a story of a seed revolution from the soil to the dinner table? At this point in my research, I think seed libraries can play an important role in all of these stories. They have the potential to house varieties of seeds, facilitate seed exchange across communities, and speak out in the forum of policy creation as stewards of seeds. The complete story of seed libraries is still to be determined, stay tuned for an upcoming interview with a seed librarian to find out more!