Forty-years ago Diane Ott Whealy and Kent Whealy had an idea. They would start an heirloom seed collection with the seeds of two plants given them by Diane’s grandfather, John Ott. Grandpa Ott’s morning glory seeds and German Pink tomato seeds served as the foundation of an idea that proposed to bring friends and neighbors together to save and share the best of their gardens. And come together they did. Today, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) is a collection of more than 20,000 heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable, herb, and plant varieties; including over 700 in-vitro potato varieties and over 900 apple tree varieties.
SSE’s mission is to conserve and promote America’s culturally diverse, but endangered, garden and food crop heritage for future generations. In the past 40-years they have supported collecting, growing, and sharing heirloom seeds and plants. But they have done much more. SSE has been a guardian of history and a caretaker of the future. The genetic diversity represented by Bronze Arrow lettuce, Kerry Pippin apples or Red Yoyo squash once lost cannot be recovered. And while the monetary value of preserving genetic diversity can never fully be calculated, there is no doubt that our lives and gardens have been enriched beyond measure by their efforts. SSE seeds (and tissue cultures or other plant materials, depending on how a plant reproduces) have the collective power to withstand unforeseen pestilence and plant disease, climate change, and limited habitat, and to stop culture-bleached dinnertime boredom dead in its tracks.
Since 1975 devoted members have distributed hundreds of thousands of heirloom and open pollinated garden seeds. Those seeds are now widely used by seed companies, small farmers supplying local markets, chefs, home gardeners and cooks of all kinds. Some of these seeds have found their rightful home in historic gardens and landscapes such as Colonial Williamsburg in Williamsburg, Virginia.
With over 13,000 members, SSE offers training for both new and expert seed savers. At exchange.seedsavers.org, gardeners can find tutorials, webinars, and seed histories. At blog.seedsavers.org, gardeners can follow the latest seed saving news. Members have access to The Heritage Farm Companion, their award-winning quarterly publication,which offers in-depth articles, profiles, and tricks of the trade.
Situated on 890 acres in Decorah, Iowa, SSE’s Heritage Farm is home to preservation, display and scientific evaluation gardens, Robert J. Becker Memorial Library, Lillian Goldman Visitors’ Center, heritage poultry, indigenous Brook trout, and Ancient White Park cattle. SSE also hosts numerous events each year including a Seed Saving School and annual conference and campout.
So, Happy Birthday Seed Savers Exchange! And thank you … for Aunt Molly ground cherries, Plum Granny melons, Elf peas, Billy Goat hot peppers, Farm Salting tomatoes, Red Baron onions, Watermelon radishes, and the thousands of other plants you have nurtured along the way.
Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit, 501(c)(3), member supported organization that saves and shares the heirloom seeds of our garden heritage. To learn more or donate go to: http://www.SeedSavers.org.