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Saving a Seed from Extinction

You hear a lot of talk today about "saving heirloom seeds," but what does that really mean? Who really does it? Most heirloom seed companies these days merely buy their seed from other large companies and package them in a way that looks "wholesome," "Old Fashioned" and "American." In reality, many of these seeds have nothing to do with being grown in the USA.  In fact, many have been grown thousands of miles away in a foreign land. This has nothing to do with supporting the local rural farm life that is quickly disappearing in this country.

Who really actually saves heirloom seeds from extinction anymore? What seed company actually grows their own seed? The sad truth is I can only name a couple, but we are one of those few! That is one of the biggest reasons this company was founded. Seed is the foundation of our food. Food is the foundation of our bodies' existence. We need healthy food to nourish our bodies. Most of us depend on corporations to send food to stores to feed us. Most corporations have one thing in mind... the bottom line. Food cost is on the rise and the quality of our food is headed in the opposite direction. Today most people consume foods that were engineered out of such things as viruses! Amazing 3 minute video to watch on the topic.

So now you understand that in order to have healthy food we have to have open pollinated seed. Seed that we, as individuals, can save and replant the next year to feed our families. This seed is the very foundation of our independence from corporate control. For centuries, companies, governments and kings have controlled the masses with food. If you control the food source, you control the people. Today, we are controlled by our wallets and have been lulled into a false sense of safety that food will always be on the grocery store shelf and we will be able to afford it, but as many recently unemployed people are discovering, that is not always true.

What can you do? Learn to save seed and support those who are doing it as well. We at Sustainable Seed Company have dedicated our lives to saving seed. It is a fascinating tale how it all begins. The journey of a forgotten seed can start deep in the dusty pages of an old seed catalog--the only place where this long forgotten variety exists anymore. It has been forgotten by time. No longer planted in an age where hybrid or GM crops dominate. Yes, hybrids might perform a bit better, but this forgotten variety has something a hybrid does not. The ability to save its seed and produce the same thing next year. Yes, anyone who knows a little about saving seeds can grow this variety, feed their family, save its seed and do it all over again next year. No need to pay a corporation or wonder if that company will even offer that particular variety again. This seed can be all yours, and in fact many people have handed down such seed in their families for generations. It was a living legacy.

So how does this seed transform itself from the pages of the dusty seed catalog to a living organism? Well, that can happen in so many ways. Perhaps the USDA seed bank still has it kept deep within one of its seed vaults. Maybe, we get a call from someone who is doing an estate sale and found a box of seed in the bottom of the deep freeze. We have gotten seed from abandoned farm houses where a certain variety has continued to reseed itself for decades in remote isolation. The stories are endless, but the possibilities of bringing a seed back are always exciting!

Next, we need to know what folks back then knew about this variety, but anyone that would have known is most likely gone now. So, we go back to those dusty catalogs and books to research this variety. How did it grow? What were its characteristics? How long did it take to produce? What conditions did it do best in? Then we plant the seeds in the greenhouse under careful and guarded conditions. These precious jewels may indeed be the last of their kind and getting them to sprout/grow is of paramount importance. In many cases we may have only a few seeds to start with. Sometimes we may have a few more, like in the case of a barley we recently received. We had the contents of literally one head of barley or about 30 seeds.

This barley was once developed by the famous Luther Burbank at his farm only minutes down the road from us, but from the research we have done, it hasn't been grown here since 1933!  If all goes well, we might get 20 plants from these 30 seeds accounting for gophers, germination, disease and picking only those plants that perform well. From these 20 plants we hope to get at least 20 grain-heads containing about 30 seeds themselves, bringing us to a total of 600 seeds for next year.

Next year the process will start again, but this time we will start with 600 seeds. From these seeds we will grow the next generation and pick only those that meet strict criterion to save for next year. From these seeds, over 3 years later we will share the bounty of our harvest with you and the rest of the world. A variety reborn after decades of sleep. Awakened again to feed a new generation. Hopefully, a generation who understands what their grandparents knew--that healthy food is the foundation of life. Feeding oneself is freedom, and when a man is not hampered by pains in his belly, he is free to make right choices for himself, his family and his community. A seed is freedom, a seed is hope. Learn to save seed, keep hope and freedom alive for your children. Teach them to respect the earth, to nourish it and protect it. As humans, we face a challenging future, but there is hope...plant that seed now.

Comments on Saving a Seed from Extinction

Pennsylvanienne 07-18-2014 03:29 AM
Great article, and an important story to tell! Please have your authors sign and date these articles, so they are properly citable. I loved reading about your careful efforts, and will share the link for this article! I would like to encourage you to investigate the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Melissa 09-27-2012 09:39 AM
I agree one thousand percent, the corporate farm suppliers don't allow the small farmer to save any seed and they have o grow what they are told to grow. The E-Coli in cattle can be eliminated when they are grass fed, but it's cheaper for the big farms to just shoot them full of antibiotics. The obesity, diabetic and cancer rates have grown along with the "corporate" farm community. This is no coincidence, and we have to stop it even if it means one garden at a time.
Catz in Hawaii 07-21-2012 01:39 AM
Some high protein barley was ordered from your company today. It will start out carefully nurtured and grown here - probably in the front yard raised bed planters since the neighbors are getting excited about gardening when they can see it happening. The seeds will be saved, the stalks will feed the bunnies who in turn feed the garden. Once extra seeds are grown and saved, we will need to figure out how to get it grown in a larger area. Some friends up mountain have alpaca and want to sprout and feed them with barley. They may get some barley seeds in exchange for fiber and then they can figure out how to grow it in bigger quantities to feed their critters, too. Plus the variety ordered is "hull less" so it will be good for people food, too. There's a pot of vegetable barley soup on the stove as I type. It was made with commercial barley, when there is enough homegrown barley to make soup for us, that will be amazing.
Sean 10-17-2011 04:56 AM
I hope none of those plants go extinct? Also I want you to bring the rarest varieties you can find out there no mater what it takes when it comes to guts, strength, sweat, courage, and not by giving up you can do it and one of your darkest tomatoes caught my eye maybe I'll buy it in the future but I don't know how to preserve seeds would be awesome but I don't know how to do something like that but it would be awesome if you can provide information on that topic just right a comment below and I'll follow the steps below and yes I want to try unusual varieties that are out of the norm that what most gardeners would normally never, ever have a chance to grow.

-- We have several books on saving seed here: http://sustainableseedco.com/seed-saving/ ~SSC
Kristina 08-26-2011 09:18 PM
I feel moved myself. This essay taught me so much. I didn't know that so many seeds were under corporate control. I also see the value and wonder of diversity in plants. I'll be coming back.

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