Sunday, August 3, 2014

Filling My Hands and Heart with Seeds

My Visit to Heritage Farm in Pictures
The few precious days I spent recently at Seed Savers Exchange's (SSE) Heritage Farm in Decorah Iowa will stay with me for a long time.  If you're interested in true heirloom and heritage edibles then a visit here is a must.  And even better, go during SSE's annual conference and campout held in July, and get an in depth tour of the operations on member's day.

Holly Hocks in co-founder Diane Whealy's garden
I'm so impressed by the incredible effort of this organization and their staff- they are all truly dedicated and enthusiastic about their sacred mission to preserve agricultural biodiversity, and along with it, the stories imbedded in seeds that are our cultural histories. 

I was also energized by meeting my fellow seed saving gardeners and farmers. We shared mealtimes and camaraderie, and I look forward to keeping in touch. 

Members were treated to special in depth tours with SSE staff
SSE staff member Tor Janson demonstrated seed cleaning equipment

The Dedicated Effort of Seed Stewardship
There is so much for a gardener to see at Heritage Farm: test gardens, the historic apple orchard, facilities for seed processing, storage, and even the machine that fills seed packets sold through the SSE catalog (yes, it's only one machine, below!). 

SSE's seed packaging machine

Saving seeds on this scale is a multifaceted effort that involves trial gardens, growing under isolation to ensure pure seed, evaluation of growth and culinary uses and characteristics, research and verification of origins, and long term storage, to name a few!

Strikingly beautiful Blue Podded Peas
Crimson Flowered Fava available through the members exchange
Geneva apples in the Heritage Orchard

The Seeds of Inspiration
Besides tours of the grounds and facilities there were several interesting talks and workshops, including one by Chris Schmidt of Native Seeds/SEARCH, another non-profit seed conservation effort. Their focus is on traditional native american varieties and those adapted to arid climates of the southwest. With the impacts of climate change these varieties are becoming especially important (just ask Californians currently in year three of a recording making drought).

As Chris put it
"No part of the country is self-reliant with respect to biodiversity."
We need to share and help each other, especially in the challenging times ahead for agriculture.

Chris Schmidt (right) Interim Executive Director of Native Seeds/SEARCH

When I was considering whether to attend the conference I was trying to weigh the pros and cons of flying out to Iowa from California- the expense of flying and renting a car, driving out to the farm, finding lodging, and all of this on my own. Was it extremely self-indulgent of me, just for a conference on seeds? 

The wildlife-rich restored meadow near our camping area on the farm

I can say without hesitation that at no time did I feel that I shouldn't have made the trip.  Every minute was meaningful, rich, and memorable. I returned home with renewed determination and a deepened understanding of the task at hand.
                             Saving seeds fills my hands as well as my heart.

Photos: Patricia Larenas, Urban Artichoke