A collection of fava beans.A collection of fava beans.

When the seed catalogues come in the snowy and bone-chilling month of February, we are treated to the promise of summer succulent tomatoes, early snapping snap peas, magnificent squash with flavors of Medjool dates, and the ever reliable butternut that will carry us through the next winter—if we are lucky. This treasure trove can bring on a sugar-like high. We gorge on dreams of our cultivating life brought out of dormancy. The high and delight can be so great that we rarely stop in wonder—in wonder about who grows these seeds for us and why we, in fact, do not have a stash of seeds from last year’s harvest with which we might reignite our spring dreams.

“While there is great concern over the loss of access to our shared heritage of plant varieties with the consolidation of seed companies, it also is clear that the solution to maintaining and developing a resilient and abundant seed network is at our fingertips.”

Over the last decade we have become savvy about where our milk comes from. As we interrogate dairy cartons in the store, some of us have considered finding a local source in hopes to connect more directly to the calf, the cow, and the farm family. Seeds are next. When we say our seeds come from Johnny’s Selected Seeds, this is like saying that the milk we buy comes from the store. The contracted farmers from around the country and around the world are invisible to us. We have a fabulous and trustworthy gatekeeper who brings us some of the highest quality seed, free of disease and weeds. Yet this does not mean we cannot also save and share our best seeds and, in this one act, join in the stewardship of our common heritage.

Botany and agroecology professor Suzanne Morse.Botany and agroecology professor Suzanne Morse.

As Seed Savers Exchange has demonstrated in one story after another, we have a long history of seed savers and breeders in our bones, and we each have the potential to reach back into our heritage and pick up this thinning link to our past and save some seeds. Teachers abound, from Suzanne Ashworth’s Seed to Seed and John Navasio’s Organic Seed Grower. We have books at our sides, videos streaming from the internet, hands-on seed schools through the Organic Seed Alliance and seed elders such as Carol Deppe, Bill McDorman, and  Frank Morton; with these resources, we  can learn and re-learn how to save, increase, and even breed our own regionally adapted varieties.  

While there is great concern over the loss of access to our shared heritage of plant varieties with the consolidation of seed companies, it also is clear that (literally) at our finger tips is the solution to maintaining and developing a resilient and abundant seed network. With more skill, knowledge and practice, the thousands of farmers and gardeners of the United States can reconstitute a widespread and diverse network inherently resilient to localized disasters and seed loss from consolidation. Let’s begin. Our teachers and seeds are expecting us.