Seeds are one of the most awe-inspiring examples of the perfection of nature and her cycles. Their elegance and sophistication are short of being a miracle. To many, it is a mystery unraveled and to others it is constantly a breathtaking process. Unbeknown to many, seeds are living and breathing embryos, awaiting the perfect conditions to unfurl themselves in this delicate internal process, to offer their gifts of food and medicine to the world. I have marveled at their perfection and continue to be mystified the more I continue to unfold their mystery.
Cultures throughout time, have sown seeds by the celestial calendar, honoring the Grandmother Moon and living within the natural rhythms of the earth. Seeds are an amazing 95% water, our beautiful planet embodies 71% water and humans are 70% water. All living things are influenced and affected by maritime tides and the cycles of the moon, the innate relationship between water, seeds and mankind is intrinsic and ancient. This common life force of water is the bridge to the complexity of our interdependent relationship with each other, tapping deep into our cellular memory. Perhaps, many people may have lost their sense of connection with these elements, but the reality is that this connection is engrained in our very core of our existence.
Saving seeds represents witnessing the full cycle of a plant, from the inception of an embryo to a seedling, maturation and ultimately to flower and then back again to being a seed. This life cycle offers humanity an experience at witnessing one of nature’s greatest treasures, it allows for mankind to begin to understand the subtleties in life, helping one make a deeper connection to the cycles, the four seasons and our inherent connection to the greater force that is Mother Nature. A seed contains the living plant, known as the embryo, food supply known as cotyledon and the seed coat which protects each treasure inside from any harm.
Sowing seeds has been the catalyst for the development of human culture and civilization; it has been a ritual in our lives for thousands of years. Over the past ten thousand years, mankind developed much of the agricultural diversity that had been available, until the beginning of the 20th century. This diversity accounted for over 1500 plant families, with thousands of varieties under each family, offering a rich tapestry of food that represented diverse cultures, people and ecosystems all over the globe.
This diversity began with the careful selecting and saving of seeds, thus began the relationship between farmers and the magic of the seed. Farmers realized, that by saving seeds from the most vigorous plants, they would be conserving and selecting the genetic diversity of the strongest plants, naturally passing that DNA to their offspring, resulting in stronger yields and tastier crops. Over time, farmers began to breed and propagate varieties that were specific to their heritage and region, writing their history through food and sharing it with their seeds. These seeds began to adapt to their particular regions, soils, weather and even to the farmers themselves. The brilliance of the seed is demonstrated in the act of precise adaptability to its environs while building a genetic bank that is unique and site specific. Year after year, the vigor of these plants continues to strengthen, creating prized seeds that begin to tell a story of themselves.
Each seed variety carries a story, a story of dedication, love and care. These stories are usually associated with the seeds and passed on, for generations where they begin to be referred to as heirloom or heritage seeds – seeds with a linage, seeds with a story.
Seed saving and seed knowledge became a sacred part of ancient and modern civilizations, a ritual that was naturally passed on from generation to generation, from neighbor to neighbor. Seeds became such an integral and valuable part of civilization that they were used as a form of currency throughout the world. Seeds were considered a fundamental part of every day life. Within a mere one hundred years all of that changed, currently 10 companies own 75% of the world seed stock and since 1903, almost 96% of the commercial vegetable varieties were available to us are now extinct. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, crop genetic resources are disappearing at the rate of 1 – 2% a year. About 75% of agricultural crop diversity is estimated to have been lost since the beginning of the last century
There was a time when we marveled at the rich distinction between communities and cultures for their seed stock and food varieties, today 90% of the world’s food is provided by only 30 plants and four of those plants constituting 75% of mankind’s calories. The culture and ritual around food that had been engrained in humanity for thousands of years has all but disappeared, succumbing to hybrid seeds, mono-cropping and industrialization. By farmers focusing on only a handful of crops, they rob their communities and ecosystems of their diversity while only keeping an eye on a shortsighted goal. Through the last 100 years, food production became more industrialized with the promise of less work, lowered costs, higher yields, pest resistance and the ability of feeding more people around the world. These empty promises have left farmers world wide relying on expensive pesticides, modern oil dependent farm equipment, genetically modified seeds, starving and worst of all, lost without the very thing they have always known, their farms. This homogenization has left soils depleted while potentially jeopardizing the wide diversity that took our ancestors 10,000 years to create, all in one generation.
The beauty of this is that we are merely passing through life’s hour glass and there is a revolution working to turn things around in the most poetic and resilient manner. We will be known as the people who had the opportunity to turn the pages of the history books towards the light. One of magical properties of seeds is simply that they are all inclusive – seeds have the potential to bridge families and communities for all of us to rise up to this very historical event. We are here to spread seeds of peace, seeds of joy and seeds of resilience. As one community rises up, it creates a ripple in this large ocean and many ripples throughout the world can cause great change.
“The greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” Thomas Jefferson
Last week The Living Seed Company hosted Seed School in Marin 2011 featuring veteran seedsman Bill McDorman. It was a five day intensive, where we were taught the seed industry from its inception as a form of currency, to our current global state where 10 companies own 75% of the world seed stock! Since 1903, almost 96% of the commercial vegetable varieties available to to us are now extinct. We are here to change that by planting those varieties that are rare, while empowering everyone to grow their own food and most of all to save their seeds. This are beautiful times where we are being offered the opportunity to turn some of these statistics the other way, so that our children and our children’s children can see our generation as the one that regained control of our most innate daily ritual – eating.
We were honored to have Bill walk us through this new path, he is the Executive Director of Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H and having founded Seeds Trust/High Altitude Gardens he holds over 30 years of experience in this industry. With a beautifully positive attitude and the wisdom of this industry he offers a light for those of us working to inspire everyone to rise up to this historically moment in our lives.
Last week the folks that attended Seed School 4, not only joined the age old tradition of seed saving, but we began to understand that the strength of our ecosystem is in our diversity. This tradition is the very thing that allowed for mankind to create and succeed in building civilizations. And it will be the very thing that will allow us to thrive and emerge from these times, once again with a diverse seed culture. We were visited by Rebecca Newburn, the brilliant shape shifter that created the Richmond Seed Lending Library in conjunction with the Richmond Public Library, they offer free seeds and education about growing and saving seeds. It is their hope that seed library patrons will return some seeds from their harvest to make the library self-sustaining.
Later in the week, we took a field trip to visit International renown permaculturist Penny Livingston at her farm at the Regenerative Design Institute, as always it is a treat to visit Penny and James in their slice of coastal paradise in Bolinas. We learned about the varieties that thrive in this foggy climate, tasting their honey, touring their natural buildings while also witnessing two of their seed gardens in full creation!
Personally, I have been unveiling the magic of seeds and participating in this course gave me the tools and the understanding to be able to ask the right questions. I will continue to formulate the tapestry of this mystery embodied in a seed.
Check out our trailer for a peek on seed school Marin!
“The greatest service which can be rendered to any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.” Thomas Jefferson
I’ve written about seed saving in the past, especially with my prized Brandywine tomatoes whose heritage can be traced back to the people who first brought them to the US in the 1800s. But why are seeds important, and why does it matter where gardeners get them from?
If you’ve seen documentaries such as The Future of Food or Food Inc, then you are aware of the way big businesses are reinventing farming and food production. Growing food used to be a community effort, and even when farmers started making money on their crops, it was still a family business. Fast forward to today when seed company Monsanto has actually created seeds that, when planted, produce a fruit filled with sterile seeds so they can’t be saved and planted the next year. While people all over the world (and even in our own city) are going hungry, we are actually creating food that limits future food production and makes us more dependent on the seed companies to sell us new seeds every year. WTF?
The original idea for big businesses taking over the farming industry was this: if we can turn farming into an efficient system that is run more like an industry, we’ll be able to produce more food that can feeds more people for less money. Voila, a solution to the world’s hunger crisis! Good intentions, right?
But then people got greedy. Big seed companies created genetically modified seeds that were hybrids or immune to herbicide, and even seeds that produced a corn which could act as its own pesticide, killing any bug that tried to munch on it. And we’re eating the food that is produced from those seeds! Ick. I don’t want to eat or grow those kinds of seeds.
I try to be responsible about where I get my seeds, and saving my own seeds from previous years has been a good solution. I was excited to get an email recently from Astrid at The Living Seed Company, a family-run farm that sells their heirloom seeds to people like us. They also donate seeds to school groups and small gardens, which proves to me that they actually believe their mission: “to help supply the fundamentals of a joyful human life.”
Astrid was kind enough to answer some questions for me (she is pictured below with her fiancé Matthew).
Why are seeds so special?
Seed are magical. Each seed is a miracle waiting to happen. After selecting seeds from the most robust plants in your garden and replanting these same seeds the following year, the plant will become more and more adapted to your soil, your climate and to you. The more you collect your seeds and continue that process the more they will adapt to you – now that is amazing!
So, for someone who is just learning about the big business of seeds and agriculture in the United States, can you please explain why your seeds are different from the ones I buy from (for example) Burpee or the garden center at Home Depot?
We do not sell any hybridized seeds, all of our seeds are open pollinated which means that you can save the seed and propagate a plant exactly like the parent. You cannot do that with hybrid seeds. Something a lot of people are not aware of is that a lot of seeds, even Organic, are being grown overseas, and all of ours are grown in the US. Seeds become adapted to the region where they are grown. If seeds are grown overseas, they are adapted for a completely different climate and soil structure.
We created the Founder’s Collection as a way for us to help people plan their gardens throughout the year. We selected the best of the best and have chosen these 22 varieties for being widely adapted, productive, naturally disease resistant and nutritious. Every single variety has many uses other than being just a squash or a tomato. Many of them dry, can, ferment, freeze and preserve very well. Our winter squash, for example, can be kept for up to 6 months in a cool place such as a garage. It can be used in baking as well as in savory dishes and best of all, the longer it keeps the sweeter it gets! Increasing the diversity of our food is so important, many companies are no longer offering the rare gems that still exist and need to be propagated. The world has lost 95% of our food diversity in just 100 years, and we are inspired to change that. We are also really inspired to revive the ancient art of seed saving in every gardener.
Why don’t more people supply seeds the way The Living Seed Co does? Is it an issue with money, time, labor, laws, etc?
There are seed companies that do, but we have not seen companies offer a collection like the Founders Collection. It is a complete garden. Ultimately what we want is to get as many people as possible in the soil and reconnecting with the land. Our collection is a superior deal offered as a whole, perhaps it can be a lower profit margin but we want to insure people having a substantial amount of seeds for a relatively low cost. There was also a lot of time involved the creation of the collection. There was a lot of research that went into choosing each seed and its complement to the whole.
The Living Seed Company has a big vision. How can seeds help save the world?
We feel that gardening is a way to bring people and communities together to grow food, it helps people find their inner peace and outer prosperity. Also, gardens act like a small oasis for birds, bees and insects – offering a refuge to pollinate, mate and grow the biodiversity of a neighborhood. Even a window box can offer this on a smaller scale. Ultimately, we see growing food and seed saving as a way for people to thrive and learn things about themselves they did not know. The reward one gets in the act of growing food is indescribable and what you offer in return to the biodiversity of your area is so much!
Please tell me about your donate-1-for-every-10 program
We became inspired to create this program as an opportunity for us to give back. There are a lot of school programs and low income urban gardens that need access to good seeds and we want to be that source! We want to inspire people all over the world to begin growing their own food. So for every ten collections sold we donate one to a school garden program or youth group.
Learn more at livingseedcompany.com
Seed School offers practical, hands-on knowledge to help create long-term, self-sufficient, agricultural programs. This far-reaching, 5-day immersion boasts a practical, hands-on curriculum that teaches everything from basic genetics to modern database management, harvesting, processing, germination testing, packaging, and how to use these skills to create diversity and strengthen local bioregions.
Seed School trains gardeners, farmers, entrepreneurs, and non-profits.
This far-reaching, 5-day immersion boasts a practical, hands-on curriculum that teaches everything from basic genetics to modern database management. Seed School trains gardeners, farmers, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and policy-makers to implement long-term, self-sufficient, and secure agricultural programs. Seed School recently completed its third training in Arizona and all sessions sold out.
Mr. McDorman Executive Director of Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H and having founded Seeds Trust/High Altitude Gardens in 1984. He has over 30 years experience in the seed business and is author of Basic Seed Saving.
For more info contact:
Seeds Trust – firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill McDorman, Executive Director of Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H., shares his decades of seed business expertise in Seed School, a 5-day workshop held at Solstice Grove Institute, in Nicasio, California from May 1stthrough the 6th. Seed School offers practical, hands-on knowledge to help create long-term, self-sufficient, agricultural programs.
Nicasio, CA, March 2011 – Worries over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), food security, loss of biological diversity, and the industrial takeover of modern agriculture, have sent people searching for long-term, sustainable gardening solutions. According to Bill McDorman, that solution lies in saving seeds.
Many gardeners, farmers, and growers purchase one-size-fits-all seeds every year when they should be saving their own seeds from plants selected for characteristics (such as pest resistance, hardiness, earliness, and taste) that work best for them. There is no other way to turn the tide on the industrialization of our food system than to think seeds first. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to say we’re going to fight the companies that own and control our food system,” says Mr. McDorman, “until we have our own system in place.”
Seed School will be held at Solstice Grove Institute, a beautiful redwood agricultural center in Nicasio, California in West Marin County, from Sunday, May 1st to Friday, May 6th 2011. This far-reaching, 5-day immersion boasts a practical, hands-on curriculum that teaches everything from basic genetics to modern database management. Seed School trains gardeners, farmers, entrepreneurs, non-profits, and policy-makers to implement long-term, self sufficient, and secure agricultural programs.
Seed School recently completed its third training in Arizona and all sessions sold out. Five more immersions have been scheduled for 2011 including 3 dates in the gorgeous Verde Valley of Arizona, one at Solstice Grove in Marin County and another in Tucson at the brand new Native Seeds/S.E.A.R.C.H. Conservation Center. Students of Seed School learn harvesting, processing, germination testing, packaging, and how to use these skills to create diversity and strengthen local bioregions.
Mr. McDorman founded Seeds Trust/High Altitude Gardens in 1984. He has over 30 years experience in the seed business and is author of Basic Seed Saving.
For more info: