Seeds of the Past, Seeds for the Future
August 29, 2015
By Carl Segerstrom
Amidst growing concern over a changing climate and the pressure it places on our societies and specifically our food system, there is a desperate need to recapture the vitality of our food systems by preserving the most basic unit of agriculture: the seed. Over the last century we have lost upwards of 90% of commercial fruit and vegetable varieties in the United States, as well as thousands of heirloom varieties worldwide. Recognizing the threat posed to agriculture from this loss of diversity in seed resources, the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance, based in Ketchum, Idaho works to cultivate a new generation of seed stewards and recapture the diversity essential to a healthy and resilient food system.
Diminished diversity in our food systems leaves us increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic crop loss. The infamous Irish Potato Famine and less well-known but similarly devastating Southern Corn Leaf Blight of 1970 in the United States are but a couple examples of the great risk of over reliance on genetically uniform crops. Diversifying our seed resources is akin to diversifying financial assets; as we reduce our risk by investing in a variety of seeds we better prepare ourselves to withstand shocks to the system such as disease and climate change.
Building the natural capital and resilience of our agricultural system is a collaborative undertaking that thrives from community involvement and grassroots organizing. The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance serves this mission as a conduit for “educating, networking, and establishing community-based models of seed stewardship”. Through the hard work of its co-founders Belle Starr and Bill McDorman, the organization has contributed to the establishment of more than a dozen bio-regional seed companies and taught hundreds of people the tenets of seed saving.
Saving seeds and preserving biodiversity is best accomplished on a local and bioregional level where networks of farmers and gardeners can share varieties that are well adapted to local growing conditions. Seed swaps and seed sharing libraries are important means to promoting local diversity and preserving essential biodiversity in local food systems as well as the larger food system as a whole. Seed sharing networks are also an important means of resisting the ongoing corporate takeover of the means to food production. Three corporations Monsanto, Dupont, and Syngenta account for more than half of the worldwide seed market, which subjects farmers to inflated seed prices and beholden to volatile international commodities markets. Local seed banks and libraries serve as a counterbalance to the large seed companies that dominate the world seed market.
Defending access to heirloom and organic seeds and promoting diversity in food production is essential to building healthy, productive, and sustainable agriculture. It also enriches our diets and provides us with the opportunity to connect to the roots from which our food culture has developed. Seed saving is an exercise in community building and opportunity to participate in one of the foundational activities of human society by growing and preserving the means to sustenance for generations to come.
Infographic from National Geographic demonstrating the lose in variety of commercially available seeds.