The Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa has been a part of my life since the late 70s when I, and a lot of other worried American gardeners, became aware that many of the old time vegetable and fruit varieties were rapidly disappearing. At that time, most of the major seed companies were offering more and more modern hybrids and fewer heirloom, open-pollinated varieties. (Hybrid varieties are created by crossing two proprietary varieties, thus creating a new variety with selected characteristics. Gardeners cannot save the seeds of this new variety because the offspring will not be the same as the parent. In contrast, open-pollinated varieties, can reproduce themselves and under most circumstances the gardener can save the seeds from year to year. ) To help preserve these old varieties, in 1975 Kent and Diane Whealy founded the Seed Savers Exchange, and a few years later were inspired to have a campout for other seed enthusiasts to gather and share seeds and information.
In late July, I and about a thousand other heirloom seed enthusiasts, attended the Seed Savers Annual Campout to celebrate their35 years. We gathered to swap old varieties of seeds, attend seminars on seed saving and fruit tree pruning, and learn how to cook favorite heirlooms. In the last few years, saving heritage breeds of chickens, geese, turkeys, and ducks has been added to the organization’s goals, and courses on raising poultry were added to the agenda. And because a significant anniversary is a great time to reflect, the group sessions celebrated the early seed savers that collected so many hundreds of old varieties and the founding members that started a movement that has influenced seed savers around the world.
The Seed Savers anniversary cake was enjoyed by hundreds of campout attendees. It was primarily a carrot cake, which seemed very fitting, plus a chocolate layer for good measure.
My grandson Alex Chavarin, assisted me as I gave a number of presentations on raising chickens in the home garden. The hen I’m holding is an unusal White Crested Black Polish.
Five of the speakers at the Seed Saver’s Campout gathered to sign their books and greet their fans. From left to right: Maria Rodale, chairman of Rodale Press; yours truly, Ethne Clarke, editor-in-chief of Organic Gardening magazine; Amy Goldman, author and chairman of the Seed Savers Board of Directors; and Deborah Madison, member of the Seed Savers Board and vegetarian cookbook author extraordinaire.
To learn more about the Seed Savers Exchange, join the organization, and/or purchase seeds of heirloom varieties visit www.seedsavers.org