Last night I went to a seed saving talk with Bill McDorman, the man most famous for traveling to Siberia in 1989 in search of plant diversity. Behind the Iron Curtain he found a world cut off from the influences of industrial agriculture, growing more varieties of tomatoes than anywhere else in the world out of true necessity to feed themselves.
It was a passionate and facinating talk and a good reminder of why I garden. Sure, there are many reasons. I like planting seeds, watering them, watching them grow and then getting to eat fresh food out of my own garden. It's fun. I like being outside. But Bill reminded me of the importance the work of a gardener holds for the future, and the startling numbers which I've heard before, and often forget because my mind dosn't seem to hold onto numbers like that. That we relied on 1500 plants for food in the 1900s. That in the 80s, 30 plants contributed to 90% of our food, and just 4 of those plants, to 75 % of our diet. And now? Half of our calories in all of America come from soda. Yep, soda. And what's in that? Corn syrup. Corn. Where are we going from here? Where can we go from here?
Though the facts are depressing-- that we are making a rapid transition from a history of 10,000 years of genetically diverse agriculture to a agricultural system that relies on only a few species grown with chemicals and genetic modification and things such as terminator genes which mean the farmer can't possibly save seed but has to buy them again from the seed company-- the reminder was important. As a gardener, the way to protect our food source and survival for the future is to continue to grow as many varieties as possible, and to save that seed. I don't want to just eat corn. And besides the fact I don't want to, what's going to happen when diseases wipe out this one major crop- more susceptible as a single species than diversity.
Today, newly inspired and still in the spring rush to plant plant plant, I dug through our seed box and came up with a little jar of about a dozen varieties of dried beans that my aunt had given me for Christmas years ago (thanks Irene!), and I hadn't really gotten around to planting huge numbers of yet for various reasons even though I thought it was the coolest gift ever. They are absolutely beautiful and have names like Yin and Yang and Vermont Appalousa and are all different colors and sizes. I planted up half or more of each type. Yeah our garden is filling up, but there is always more space. An overwhelming amount of space at times to take care of, plant, water, harvest from... but I can't think of many more important things to do with this little piece of land than build topsoil and plant and save seeds.
We are lucky to have BASIL, a seed saving library based out of the Ecology Center down in Berkeley, that I haven't made full use of but am glad to know exists, and last night I was just alerted to maybe the first ever seed library that is in an actual library, out this way in Richmond- the Richmond Grows Seed Lending Library. Check it out! Or if you don't live here... save some seeds, plant them again, give some to your neighbor... start your own seed library?