Janisse Ray calls them revolutionaries: the seed savers, thousands of Americans who plant historic and endangered seeds in their gardens or on their farms and eat the results. In The Seed Underground (published by Chelsea Green), she explains why this small act of rebellion against the monoculture mindset is so important for our food and for our future.
What worries you about the disappearance of variety in our seeds?
“Did you know that 50 percent of today’s wheat comes from just nine varieties? Traditionally, there were thousands of distinct wheat varieties. Diversity supports healthy plants; it makes them less prone to pest and plague. With fewer varieties, you’re vulnerable: A change in climate can destroy an entire crop. And the loss of all those different kinds of wheat, apples and corn is a loss for our palates and plates as well.”
Why is seed variety declining?
“Because we left the breeding and crossing of plants to the industry. From an industrial/agricultural point of view, it’s easier to standardize and homogenize crops that are doing well, then efficiently produce and commercialize them. At some point in time, farmers decided to stick their canisters of homegrown seed in the back of the shed and go to the hardware store to buy the standardized stuff. But times are changing. There’s a growing group of people digging up those old seeds, preserving them, planting them again.”
How did you become a seed activist?
“I grew up in rural southern Georgia. My grandfather was a farmer, and I had a lot of intimacy with that farm. My grandmother taught me a lot about seed saving. I bought my first piece of land when I was 20. It was only 12 acres, all I could afford, but I was very proud of it. I planted a couple of rare seeds such as Candy Roaster, a kind of squash. After that, I didn’t garden for a while, but I came back to it recently and discovered again how important those seeds are for us. I went to the Seed Savers Exchange Conference and met a lot of people who are working on the preservation of heirloom seeds.”
What can we do to ensure greater variety in our crops?
“First of all, you need to understand the importance of variety. Also, try to cook, instead of eating processed microwave foods. Buy your groceries at the farmers’ market, and maybe talk with farmers about what kinds of seeds they’re growing. If you like, you could start growing your own seeds. Give it a try with seeds from your favorite tomato. Plant them yourself, and you’ll never have to buy tomatoes again!”
Elleke Bal - This story was published in the November/December issue of The Intelligent Optimist
Find out more: janisseray.weebly.com
Photo: X. Fonseca/CIMMYT
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