Heirloom seed varieties are now at greater risk of extinction than ever before. While a few varieties have gained celebrity, thousands of others disappear – along with the elderly seed-savers who maintain them.
Most of our best seed-savers are old folks, and every month several pass away or stop gardening. Many of them don’t have anyone at hand to maintain collections or keep these varieties alive when they pass on.
Thus, if current trends continue, within 20 years the U.S. will lose 20 enormous collections of varieties on the scale of Maine farmer Will Bonsall’s (film SEED, book titles, etc) collection – (which once included over 700 varieties of Potatoes, and now holds about 150).
These vulnerable heirlooms have been stewarded by individuals or families for decades, even centuries. Often genes for resilience to growing climactic pressures are found in these rare varieties. And as we lose them, we lose crop resilience, our genetic diversity, key links to human history, phytochemicals and unique food flavors.
There has been an alarming rate of consolidation in the seed industry, to a point where a very few international chemical corporations control a large percentage of the world’s commercial seed supply. This graphic shows one recent period of this corporate consolidation.
Meanwhile, many farmers and gardeners around the world continue to save seeds. Some save seeds that were passed down from their ancestors; some save seeds as a way of regaining self-sufficiency; some find a variety they love in a catalog and start saving seeds when that variety becomes commercially unavailable; some save seeds as a hobby; some breed new varieties. Some save only a variety or two; some have collections of hundreds of varieties. Many seed-savers are elderly; some have not yet come of age. Some have no e-mail addresses; some expect to find all the information they want online. We hope to connect people across each of these spectra.
The number of seed-savers is diminishing, and as a result, we have lost countless open-pollinated crop varieties. As we continue to lose varieties, we lose flavors, crop genetic diversity, a certain sense of history, and crops’ resilience to various disease and climactic pressures. The Grassroots Seed Network aims to:
-Facilitate the exchange of rare, heirloom, and other open-pollinated varieties between individuals who save seeds
-Offer a level of crop diversity beyond that is found in most seed catalogs, or in most supermarkets,
-Facilitate discussion and education about varieties and about seeds savers’ diverse methods and reasons for saving seeds,
– Make it easier for a small-scale producer of seeds to get their name out and start selling seeds, thus countering the trend of industry consolidation,
– Work synergistically with other seed exchange organizations– connect aging curators of seed collections with enthusiastic and able younger curators.