Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Seed Saving: An Act of Preservation

Seed to Seed by Suzanne Ashworth
In a recent post I wrote about Heritage Breeds of livestock and how helpful the book is for historic sites and open-air history museums who are considering adding or expand on livestock programs. Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, by Suzanne Ashworth, is just as valuable for those considering or already cultivating Heirloom Fruits and Vegetables.

In the days before industrial farming, and when so many more of us grew our own food, seed saving was a familiar practice. Saving and sharing seeds from a family's best produce was a way to save money and reproduce quality fruits and vegetables. Seeds were the heirlooms of the human family.

Today, as hybridization techniques create modern foods that ripen simultaneously, travel well, and have uniform appearances so important to grocery store distribution, the varieties are lost and the genetic pool is much reduced. As there are fewer gardeners, and even fewer people who know how to breed plants and save seeds, and even fewer who are trained to in agriculture colleges, we are left with fewer and fewer strains.

To me, that means today's crops, planted widely with newer seed varieties, are very likely to be less-suited for the place where they are put to grow and therefor at higher risk to damaging, weather conditions. A plant with heritage in a certain geography is more likely to weather slight changes to climate, and larger changes in weather, than a plan from a seed sourced in another region entirely. This monoculture approach to food types also means that a large percentages of our food sources is vulnerable to a single pest or disease, and that the genetic material and the histories of plants are being lost. There is strength in diversity.

Historic sites and open-air history museums have an opportunity to play a role here. Just as they can cultivate Heritage Breeds of livestock, they can cultivate Heirloom Fruits and Vegetables.

This book is an excellent how-to. It can get very technical, but it also offers the basics for starting with just a few varieties to restore, cultivate, and interpret as a part of your institution's contribution to history, to sustainable food, and to healthy communities.

Seed to Seed costs just under $25. It is a great resource for your professional library. Go ahead: add to the world's seed bank and feel good about it.

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