I didnʼt care about seeds.
Before I met Boulder, Colo., farmer, Jared Hagood, I didnʼt know anything about seeds. Just one afternoon changed my entire perspective.
It took me a few seconds longer than Jared to park my car in the small dirt area of Abbondanza Organic Seeds and Produce, just east of town. Abbondanzaʼs founders are Rich Pecoraro and Shanan Olson, and Richʼs lifelong work is seeds. Jared is studying under him after three years of managing another local farm, Oxford Gardens.
I had followed him there after meeting and chatting brieﬂy at the Trident Cafe in town. As I pulled up near a small silo, I had to wait until two chickens – one black and the other white – slowly walked aside. I soon learned that the birds, named Salt and Pepper, were constant companions to each other.
I then was immersed in everything related to seeds.
“People want to read an article that has an easy solution, preferably one that doesnʼt require their participation,” Jared says.
Educating people on the necessity of seed cultivation is not easy because it is such a complex subject. Not only due to the nature of growing plants for seeds, but also the intense political and social dynamics involved.
And getting your average person to actually practice cultivating seeds is nearly impossible.
In short, cultivating seeds is the practice of saving the seeds from a plant in order to be able to continue intentionally growing the speciﬁc variety of fruit, vegetable, herb, tuber, etc. It completes the cycle for the plant and essentially begins the next. Currently, saving seeds is not widely taught.
Jared says, “When we learn about farming, including ʻlocalʼ, organic market farming, we are instructed of the soil, crop rotation, weather patterns, composting, water use, market demands, pest control and seemingly everything under the sunʼs rotation. Then when it comes time to learn about seeds, you are given a catalog and a credit card.”
Why are seeds left out when they are the ﬁrst step?
Unfortunately, merely pondering the issue or thinking that seeds are pretty cool is not enough for something to happen, Jared says. People need to care about seed cultivation because they are the foundation of everything. Literally.
Everyone requires food, water, and shelter. Seeds grow the food we eat, the clothes we wear, many of our building materials, as well as the wood that is made into structures and furniture.
“[Seeds] are one of our lowest common denominators as humans. Everyone stems from and lives off of a seed. Itʼs a foundation of life,” Jared says. “Not to mention, our species’ oldest technology.”
“North America has already lost thousands of heirlooms. Many of which far predated the arrival of Europeans,” Jared says. “These could be rare varieties, which once lost, we can never get back.”
Heirlooms are old, at least 50 years, with many having been saved for thousands of years. Abbondanza keeps a few of the old world corns including an Anasazi, Chihuahua Blue, and Hopi Pink. They have kept their traits through natural methods, or ʻopen pollination,ʼ as opposed to the ʻindustrializedʼ growing of F1 Hybrid (not GMO) plants, preferred among many farms.
Hereʼs a breakdown of a few reasons on why seeds should be saved:
- 1. Maintains genetic diversity.
- 2. Allows independence from larger systems, thus more sustainable
- 3. Saving seeds for a region requires the communities participation
- 4. Because most people need to consume food for energy
Some species have hundreds of varieties, others only a few. In both cases, each one is essential to maintain a broad range of diversity.
Jared uses the Irish Potato Famine as one example of how the genetics of seeds play a role.
The infamous famine (1845 -1852) was due to how the Irish, under British control, were gradually limited to the dependance on one crop for the majority of their food, the potato. Although having been grown in Ireland for 60 years, over time, a pathogen was able to unlock the DNA of this potato. The percent of disease infection increased yearly and eventually destroyed a seasons harvest completely. This eliminated the food source and the outcome was catastrophic.
Moral of the story? First, colonization sucks and if the Irish had a diversity of heirlooms, perhaps the country could have turned to another variety with resistance to the disease, ending with a better outcome.
Our tour continued as Jared showed me the seed storage building where each type of seed was neatly organized and labeled in its own container. I next got to try my hand at sorting potatoes by quality and size. Turns out that determining whether or not a potato is sellable is an acquired skill. The day before was the biggest snowstorm of the early winter and we were quickly sorting and storing the crops. No coincidence, they were harvested just in time.
For food production to be truly self-renewing, the seed cycle needs to be completed by the growers of the food.
Jared acknowledges that buying from local, organic Farmers Markets is a step, but it’s not enough.
“The overwhelming majority of farmers are primarily using seeds, season after season, that are ordered from a catalog, and this creates a dependence not only on the company, but the knowledge itself,” he explains. “To the farmer’s defense, it is a battle to generate an honest income and buying the seeds seemingly saves time and money. Especially when you are competing with the subsidized mass production and corporate agri-business spending billions to maintain control. But this defense only holds up so long. You can do it.”
I saw hundreds of onions that were drying in another building under a network of tarps.
“This is the Front Range Yellow Globe. An Abbo original,” Jared says.
These too had been selected and sorted with a keen eye with the best being saved for seed and the misﬁts for food. My favorite part of the day was the large greenhouse where dozens of crops were grown and studied. This building also housed dozens of different seeds that had been saved.
“We are adapting them to our climate,” he says. Each seed had itʼs own shape, texture and color. Some of the seeds were almost too small to see. At this point in the tour, I was feeling overwhelmed. Words like monecious, isolation distance and pollination vector were being thrown around more than potatoes. I had no idea I had so much to learn.
“We need to support saving seeds so we continue to have direct access to our food,” Jared says.
The beginning of a solution for encouraging people to save seeds is education.
Currently seeds are not being saved because we are either unaware of where the food really comes from or we just donʼt know to care.
My tour concluded with a visit to the farmʼs draft horses, two Percherons named Pete and Cane, and then a pass by a collection of pumpkins grown for their oil producing seeds. A trial was conducted to see which would do best in the region.
Jaredʼs tour on the farm taught me that everything I eat and most things that I touch or have, is grown from a small seed that takes years of patience and love from groups of dedicated people. I also began to ﬁgure out that this was a larger topic that I knew, unfortunately, didnʼt have an easy solution. But here is a start.
The solution is to participate. Ask your local farmers about how you can help them save seeds either on their farm or in your own backyards.
Support the farms already saving seed. In this case, it seems your dollar is just as valuable as your time. In this system, it is more time and less proﬁt for small scale seed production.
Without thinking too hard, one thing seems clear. Seeds are important for all of us.
And we can grow our seeds.
Note: Please click on photos to get a bigger, better view
Anna Baldwin graduated from Colorado State University with a Journalism and Technical Communication degree, although she spent more time skiing and backcountry touring than she did in class. She has written for more than five publications and the online entities on a variety of subjects, and some of her work has appeared on MSNBC.com and in Skiing Magazine. Her interests include biking, skiing, reading, skiing, cooking, skiing, hiking and skiing. Anna lives in Boulder.